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A Summer Job to Remember

While Stuart Harvey worked behind the scenes, there are other railway workers who work with passengers every day. Peter Taylor was a Sleeping Car Porter in the summer of 1967. Being a porter was not an easy job, but it was an opportunity for Peter Taylor to travel the world. Peter applied for the job as he was looking for a new experience. He wanted to visit the Canadian Arctic, so he travelled to Halifax to work on a ship going north. However, the ships going north did not take workers with little experience, like Peter. He decided to go home. On the train home, he talked to the people working on the train and they said working on the trains was a good experience.

For those looking for a job today, Peter’s application experience might seem a little extraordinary:

Colour archival photograph of Expo 67. The photograph is taken from above and shows four short buildings with unusual shapes. There are many people walking on the roads between the buildings.

The pavilions of Canada, Ontario, and the Western provinces at Expo 67 in Montreal, Quebec.

It was Expo year and the Expo year was crazy, [They] had people from all over the world coming to explore Canada and go to Expo 67. So I got to Toronto and got off the train and thought, ‘Why not?’ So I went down to the CN office and said, ‘Hey, I would like to be working on one of the trains,’ and I got the job as a porter and so it was as simple as that. It wasn’t something that I set out to do but it was off train, the CN office is right there, let’s go. And that’s how I ended up working for CN.

– Peter Taylor, Sleeping Car Porter, 2020

A Good Experience (captions available in both French and English). Enjoy this video with an English transcript.

Black and white archival photograph of four Black men standing in a row. The two men in the centre are shaking hands and all four men are smiling.

Railway porters (left to right) Shirley Jackson, Pete Stevens, Harry Gairey, and Jimmy Downes.

Peter worked as a porter that summer. The experience also helped him learn about issues around racism. For decades, most porters were Black Canadians or Afro-Caribbean Canadians. These porters experienced racism and discrimination, including being called the wrong name. They were often called “George” or “George’s boy” regardless of their name. This was because George Pullman owned the Pullman Car Company, a company that operated many sleeping cars.

This job was a learning experience for Peter, a white man:

When I got to Toronto and I got the job, all of a sudden I think I was the only one that was Caucasian and it was interesting because it made me slow down a little bit and begin to try and appreciate things from a perspective that I haven’t had before. And so I do remember initially sort of thinking, ‘Hmm, this is interesting,’ as I look around and I’m the only one that looks like me. And I got pretty comfortable with it, I got totally comfortable with it, I should say. There were a couple of times that I had some pretty profound learnings, when I would say something that I thought was fairly innocent, but was interpreted as a potentially, a racially-charged comment, and a couple of guys called me on it and I thought, ‘Good for them’. But, at the time, I was embarrassed as hell because I didn’t mean anything by it, but I thought, ‘I need to learn to be more conscious of the language I use and as much as it might be acceptable in another setting, in this particular one it was clearly unacceptable.

– Peter Taylor, Sleeping Car Porter, 2020

After the summer ended, Peter returned to school. He did not work on the railways again. However, the memories remain. Even when he was on an overnight train ride in Kenya, decades later, he was reminded of his time working on the railways.