For the first time, African Canadians became involved in labour unions, fighting for better wages and working conditions.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was an all-Black union that is one of the great success stories in Canadian Black history. In 1942, under the brilliant tutelage of African American labour leader A. Philip Randolph, it established divisions in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg (and later Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver), and on May 18, 1945 it signed its first collective agreement with CP Rail. With this agreement, porters’ wages and time off were increased and their total hours on the job were reduced. This marked the first time that a trade union organized by and for Black men signed an agreement with a Canadian company.
For the first time, African Canadians became involved in labour unions, fighting for better wages and working conditions.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was an all-Black union that is one of the great success stories in Canadian Black history. In 1942, under the brilliant tutelage of African American labour leader A. Philip Randolph, it established divisions in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg (and later Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver), and on May 18, 1945 it signed its first collective agreement with CP Rail. With this agreement, porters’ wages and time off were increased and their total hours on the job were reduced. This marked the first time that a trade union organized by and for Black men signed an agreement with a Canadian company.

© 2007 Workers Arts and Heritage Centre - All Rights Reserved

CPR Porters

(Left to right) Shirley Jackson, Pete Stevens, Porter Instructor Harry Gairey and Jimmy Downes.

Daniel G. Hill Collection, Library and Archives Canada

© Library and Archives Canada


Stanley G. Grizzle sleeping car plaque

Every porter was in charge of one sleeping car on a train. Because of at times, the demeaning names they were called by passengers, such as "George" or "boy," porters won the right in their first collective agreement with CP Rail in 1945 to have plaques erected in each car stating their name.

Stanley G. Grizzle

© Stanley G. Grizzle


Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

International Convention of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Los Angeles, California, 1953, with numerous Canadian delegates present.

Stanley G. Grizzle

© Stanley G. Grizzle


Toronto Labour Day Parade

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters members participate for the first time in a Toronto Labour Day Parade, 1956. Carrying banner on left, Ronald Van Dyke, on right, Stanley G. Grizzle, President, Toronto CPR Division, behind him, Ted Fontanna. In rear at left, Leo Chevalier, Secretary Treasurer, Toronto CPR Division.

Stanley G. Grizzle

© Stanley G. Grizzle


Ladies Auxiliary

Ladies Auxiliary, Toronto Pullman Division, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, 1940s. The Ladies Auxiliary was the backbone of the movement with its own regional and international officers, conventions and whose agenda included education, fundraising and scholarship initiatives.

Stanley G. Grizzle

© Stanley G. Grizzle


Tom Bullock and Canadian Auto Workers Local 512

Tom Bullock and Canadian Auto Workers Local 512 From UE Voice of the Worker, Toronto, November 16, 1959, organ of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of Canada which merged with the Canadian Auto Workers in 1993.

Tom Bullock and Canadian Auto Workers Local 512

© Tom Bullock and Canadian Auto Workers Local 512


Seafarers' International Union Membership Card

Seafarers' International Union membership card of Elizabeth A. McClure, 1955, Prescott, Ontario.

Elizabeth McClure Burns Collection, The Grey Roots Archival Collection

© The Grey Roots Archival Collection, Owen Sound, Ontario


The Washington Family Musicians

The Washington family musicians with (l to r) Eugene Wayner, Jackie and Dick Washington entertain striking members of CUPE Local Five in Hamilton, 1950s.

Hamilton Public Library Special Collections

© Hamilton Public Library Special Collections


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • explain how Canada’s identity has been and continues to be shaped by its global participation;
  • comment on the political and social context of African Canadians between 1900 and World War II;
  • discuss civil rights of African Canadians from 1960 to now.

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