Posted on February 24, 2023

Black Sleeping Car Porters and the Fight for Rights

While I was doing some research into the experiences of black labour on the railways in Canada, I came across The Road Taken, a National Film Board production from 1969, that I thought would be of interest to many of you.

This 1996 documentary takes a nostalgic ride through history to present the experiences of Black sleeping-car porters who worked on Canada's railways from the early 1900s through the 1960s. There was a strong sense of pride among these men and they were well-respected by their community. Yet, harsh working conditions prevented them from being promoted to other railway jobs until finally, in 1955, porter Lee Williams took his fight to the union.

Claiming discrimination under the Canada Fair Employment Act, the Black workers won their right to work in other areas. Interviews, archival footage and the music of noted jazz musician Joe Sealy (whose father was a porter) combine to portray a fascinating history that might otherwise have been forgotten.


The Road Taken

Produced by Selwyn Jacobs, National Film Board of Canada,1969

The Road Taken, Selwyn Jacob, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Article written by Kamloops Heritage Railway

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