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Black Railway Porters and Their Impact on Canada's Immigration Policy

How Black railway porters paved the way for citizenship rights in Canada.

Porters demanded that Canada adopt an open immigration policy. They also advocated that immigrants from all parts of the world should have equal opportunity to immigrate to Canada based on the country’s needs and the newcomers’ commitment to their adopted country. They demanded all Canadian citizens should be equal and should all have the same rights and entitlements. The struggles of the porters paved the way for the recognition that Canadians can be culturally different but still share the same citizenship.

Under the West Indian Domestic Scheme that was proposed by the porters and their allies, Canada agreed to admit Black women who were trained as good housekeepers. They would work or “manage” the business of Canadian homes. In effect, they would be doing the “good-housekeeping” duties of train porters but as live-in maids and domestics in Canadian homes. Eventually the workers went into hospitals, caregiving institutions and other areas of homecare across Canada. This prototype worked so well that it was expanded to include young women from all over the world—most notably from the Philippines, Mexico and Latin America that were traditionally excluded from immigrating to Canada. These domestic workers led the way for an increase in Canada’s non-white population when they encouraged their families to join them in Canada.

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