By Tereena Berry
As a sleeping car porter for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), Stanley G. Grizzle had to face long hours and separation from his family for 20 years. Many days he worked 12 hours straight only to sleep for three hours in a segregated sleeping car for black porters on the train. Having this job made him one of the luckier black men at the time. When Grizzle started working at CPR, in the 1940s being a porter was one of the only steady jobs available to black men. While there were many hardships for black porters, Grizzle never gave up on his dream of a better life for himself and his fellow workers.
Grizzle, now 80, has seen many firsts in his long career. He was recently asked to come out of retirement to serve a second term as a Citizenship Court judge in Canada.
Grizzle first became an important part of Canadian history when he was a porter for CPR. Along with other black porters he organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first all-black trade union in Canada.
He started the brotherhood because white unions would not allow blacks to join. The abhorrent conditions blacks worked in also demanded they fight for equal rights.
Their purpose went beyond merely fighting for their own social and economic advancements. The creation of the union paved the way for the Canadian Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s along with crusades to change the country’s exclusionary immigration policies.
Grizzle shared his experiences with CPR and the union in a book entitled, “My Name’s Not
George: The Story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada.”
A book release party was at the Sutton Place Hotel where 220 people attended to honour him. He wrote on the inside cover of a book autographed for a young journalist, “History is to a people what memory is to the individual.”
Grizzle says he is now dedicated to educating young people, especially the young, about the struggle against the discrimination and inequality of African-Canadians — thing many Canadians now disavow.
While he enjoys being a judge he misses the community work he performed while in retirement. Grizzle spend much of his time lecturing to school students and teachers in Toronto. “I love young people. I feel it is older people’s responsibility to share and teach other young people our history,” says Grizzle. He believes there is only one history, which is neither black or white.
Finding work as a black person in Toronto in the ‘40s was a daunting task according to his book. The city didn’t hire African-Canadians. The department stores like Eaton’s and Simpson’s aldo refused to hire blacks. Often service jobs were all blacks could get. The hotels all had shoeshine stands run by black men, and they would hire black women to clean washrooms and hand out towels as people were leaving.
Porters who were in charge of the sleeping cars were hired to make beds and carry the passengers’ bags. They were like the aristocracy of the African-Canadian community, Grizzle says, because they had steady employment.
“Segregation was real,” says Grizzle, who remembers applying for a factory job but then being told to go down to the railroad because they hire “your kind of people” there.
“Porters were a more illustrious group and sometimes seen as diplomats in their community,” says Grizzle, who learned a lot from the older porters who he considered extremely intelligent.
Despite this they were still subject to stereotyping as the “Negro-servant.”
The book explains that as porters they had no identification to wear, white passengers often addressed him as “George” after George Pullman, the white owner of a company that provided sleeping car services (porters) in the United States. This happened often and irritated Grizzle and the other porters greatly. He would always correct them by calmly stating: “My name’s not George.”
One of the first things the union negotiated with their company was to have two plastic name cards placed in wall holders at each end of the sleeping car — a subtle invitation to the passengers to call the porters by their names.
After some 20 years as a porter and 16 years as an officer for the Toronto division of the Brotherhood, Grizzle went on to further accomplishments. He became the first black member inducted into the Labour Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Order of Canada.
As a person who pushed for anti-discrimination with his involvement in the Labor Committee for Human Rights, Grizzle believes “race relations in Canada have improved considerably.” He points out Canada never used to allow blacks to immigrate and also relates a story about working at the Labour Relations Board — a job he held until 1978.
“I used to come into work every morning to a man who would greet me by saying, ‘Good morning, you black bastard,’” recalls Grizzle.
“I overcame racism I encountered at the Board by using non-violent, goodwill techniques, like the kind Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about,” says Grizzle. He goes on to explain, “You see, I was like the Jackie Robinson of the board because I was the first black to be hired there. But I didn’t get violent, I got smart and soon enough it stopped,” says Grizzle.
“Through intermingling we started to understand each other and break barriers.”
Grizzle says it’s important to recognize that what he does is not only for the black community. “My efforts benefit all people.”