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A sleeping car porter looking after a child, Canadian National Railway, Circa 1947. Courtesy of Ingenium Digital Archives.

Interior of a CN sleeping car, Canada, 1937. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.

A waiter serves American actress Pricilla Dean and her mother, Canadian Pacific Railway, February 28, 1925. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

Sleeping car porters, Toronto, after-1945. Daniel G. Hill Collection, Library and Archives Canada.

  • Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters


    Black porters had little ability to fight for better working conditions as they were not unionised. To make matters worse, railroads often unjustly fired Black porters without any recourse. Although railway unions existed, they would not allow Black porters entry as members. In 1917, a group of Winnipeg porters formed the Order of Sleeping Car Porters. It was the first organised union for Black Canadians: the group fought for better wages and better working conditions for railway porters.

    A major breakthrough for Black porter’s rights occurred in 1939, when the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) allowed Canadians to join their union. Originally founded in the United States by Pullman porters, BSCP had six Canadian chapters across the country by the 1940s.

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  • Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

    Fighting for worker's rights

    On May 18, 1945, the BSCP signed an agreement with the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR), becoming the first Black union to successfully sign an agreement with its employer in Canada. In this new agreement, CPR would increase porter’s wages and and provide additional days off. They also reduced the total hours in a porter’s work week. In 1955, the BSCP earned their workers access to promotion to the position of sleeping car conductor, which was never allowed previously. Despite the breakthroughs of the BSCP, Black porters continued to face discrimination throughout their careers. 

    Besides the railroad workers themselves, the BSCP also had a lady’s auxiliary. Members of the auxiliary helped promote the BSCP and held social events for members and their family. The BSCP also supported education in the Black community and created scholarships. The lady’s auxiliary also helped to push for women’s rights, better social welfare programs, and stricter child labour laws.

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  • Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

    An unforgotten legacy

    In 1978, BSCP amalgamated with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks. The union continues to this day as the Transportation Communications International Union. Many past members of the BSCP continued to fight for civil rights long after leaving the organization. The BSCP’s struggle for fair wages and working conditions remains one of the most famous battles for equity of its time.

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  • Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

    Additional Resources

    Channon Oyeniran, “Sleeping Car porters in Canada”, Canadian Encyclopedia, 2019.

    Donna Coombs-Montrose, “The Porter: Building a Better Canada for All”, City Museum Edmonton, 2021.

    Harry Gairey, “A Black man’s Toronto, 1914-1980 : the reminiscences of Harry Gairey”, Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1981.

    Jack Kelly, “The Rise and Fall of the Sleeping Car King”, Smithsonian Magazine,2019.

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