Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Sleeping Car Porters in Canada: An Ethnically Submerged Labour Market

Document type Article
Author Calliste, Agnes
Journal Canadian Ethnic Studies = Etudes Ethniques au Canada; Calgary
Volume 19
Date 1987 January
ISSN 0008-3496
Pages 1-20


Except for the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) which employed black cooks and waiters in its dining cars, Canadian railway companies employed blacks almost exclusively as sleeping car porters from the late 1880s until the amalgamation of the dining car and poerters' locals of the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Transport and General Workers (CBRT) in 1964. The process of forming an ethnically submerged split labour market was completed in the 1920s when the Canadian National Railways (CNR) took over the GTR and replaced black waiters in the dining cars on fomer GTR cars with white employees. Moreover, the company and the CBRT agreed to a group classification system which restricted blacks to being porters only. The Canadian Pacific Railway's policies of importing Americna porters from the United Sates and of stifling porters' efforts to organize were instrumental in creating a double split labour market. The Canada Fair Employment Practices Act in 1953, however, gave proters the leverage they need to combat discrimination in railway employment. The data came from oral history, organizational records, government documents and other secondary sources.