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Author to tell 'untold story of Black railway porters' in Canada

Virtual presentation will feature conversation with Cecil Foster, author of They Call Me George
2022-05-19 Cecil Foster
Cecil Foster

Cece Scott Photo and Writing Services and Jen Tindall of Art Your Service will be hosting and chatting with Cecil Foster, author of They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada. (Biblioasis)

A historical narrative that documents the stories of Canada’s Black railway porters, commonly referred to as pullmen, Foster’s book, which was nominated for a Toronto Book Award as well as a CBC Books Must-Read Nonfiction Book for Black History Month, overviews how Canada’s railways “had been counted on from the beginning of Confederation almost one hundred years earlier, to knit provinces, regions, communities, languages, and cultures into a modern nation state.”

To keep the thousands of travellers well looked after, the smartly dressed and “always smiling Black porters manned the trains’ popular sleeping cars and parlour cars.”

In fact, these soft-spoken, in-the-background porters were, Foster states, “as much iconic representatives of Canada and the Canadian experience as Mounties, moose, beavers, and iced-over hockey ponds.”

As a part of their shifts, these men, many of whom counted themselves lucky to hold what was considered a prestigious job, were at the mercy of disgruntled passengers who often took their anger out on these men (which sometimes ended with the maligned porter losing his job), poor pay and extremely long shifts that lasted for more hours and days on the job than off.

By 1939, however, things started to change. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had been established, and while several attempts to unionize had been crushed by the Pullman Company, the power and the push-back by porters to improve their working conditions indicated changes were in the making. And on May 17, 1945, the CPR Company, “which had traditionally reserved sleeping car porter jobs for Black men only, hired the first white man as a sleeping car porter in Toronto.”

Foster’s book is an examination of the realities of race in Canada, a factual storytelling that establishes the importance of the role Black train porters played in championing social justice and equality in Canada as it established its position as a global and welcoming country for those who came from away to make a new and better life in Canada the Good.

Along with being a leading author, academic, journalist, and public intellectual, Foster’s work narrates the challenges Black people have encountered historically in Canada in their efforts to achieve respect and recognition for their contribution to what is now a multicultural Canada. He highlights their fight for social justice and human dignity. In particular, the author addresses the issues of immigration in his critical discussions on who is a Canadian in the ever-evolving social narrative toward a genuine multicultural Canada.

Register to get the free Zoom link for this event, taking place May 26 at 2 p.m., at