They Call Me George

A nonfiction book by Cecil Foster.

Cecil Foster

A historical work of non-fiction that chronicles the little-known stories of black railway porters — the so-called "Pullmen" of the Canadian rail lines. The actions and spirit of these men helped define Canada as a nation in surprising ways; effecting race relations, human rights, North American multiculturalism, community building, the shape and structure of unions, and the nature of travel and business across the U.S. and Canada.

Drawing on the stories and legends of several of these influential early black Canadians, this book narrates the history of a very visible, but rarely considered, aspect of black life in railway-age Canada. These porters, who fought against the idea of Canada as White Man's Country, open only to immigrants from Europe, fought for opportunities and rights and won. (From Biblioasis)

From the book

As I travelled on the train, I thought of all the train porters who came before Rokhaya Ndiaye, and who left a legacy of social change in Canada as part of the Civil Rights Movement — and indeed the entire Black experience in the Americas and beyond. But nobody is more deserving of recognition than Stanley Grizzle, whose tireless efforts for change make him effectively the hero of this book. Following the Second World War, Stanley Grizzle and his fellow porters fought to create a new Canada by embodying a citizenship that reflected the entire diver- sity and dignity of humanity itself. The train porters battled to make normal what is now socially routine, and even taken for granted, in our daily living: Black workers' ability to hold a wide range of jobs and to be hired and promoted in the civil service; and for Black people from Africa and the West Indies to immigrate and be- come citizens of Canada.

We should always remember this was not a fight they were guaranteed to win. We should also not forget that Canada wasn't originally intended to be a multicultural society. Official multiculturalism in Canada was a fluke of history. Some thought of multiculturalism as democracy gone wrong. Against great odds, the sleeping car porters sacrificed themselves and all that they had to put a stick in the wheels, figuratively speaking, that were driving Canada toward a different destination. The train porters turned Canada black, brown, and a host of other shades. Yet this important piece of Canadian history has yet to be fully told. 

From They Call My George by Cecil Foster ©2019. Published by Biblioasis.


Interviews with Cecil Foster

At the beginning of the 20th century, being a train porter in Canada was the exclusive domain of black men who laboured long hours for miserable pay. Cecil Foster is a journalist and academic whose book, They Call Me George; The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada, chronicles the story of the "Pullmen" of the Canadian rail lines, and their fight for social justice.



To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?