Toronto’s Union Station, opened in 1872 and rebuilt in 1927, has been the reception depot for many immigrants, their first contact with the city. The railway and Union Station helped transform a sleepy town into a busy industrial and commercial centre.
Starting in the 19th century, railway stations like Union Station were also the sites for significant unionizing drives for railway employees: first the engineers, firemen, conductors, and train men on the trains, then the machinists and other metal workers in the shops, and eventually African-Canadians who worked as sleeping car porters and who faced intense racial discrimination.
Toronto’s Stanley Grizzle was a key leader in the Canadian organizing drive of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), which was the first and only trade union in Canada organized by, and for, African-Canadians. It led the struggle to dismantle systemic racism in the railways and in society, including Canada’s immigration system.
Grizzle’s memoir, My Name’s Not George, details the organizing drive and his work as an important human rights champion in Ontario. Cecil Foster has detailed the full history of porters in They Call Me George: The Untold Story of The Black Train Porters.