Railway Men Transcript

[Lively music]

[Train horn]

[Porter 1] Like I was saying it’s hard work, but for us it’s the best work there is.

Just don’t expect everyone to be friendly or even polite.


And get used to the idea that you’re invisible.

Except when they need something, and then you better get visible fast!

[Joe] Oh!

[Porter 1]You do find as a porter, Joe, just keep your cool and do your job.

We’re all in this together.

[Porter 2] Welcome aboard, Joe.

[Conductor] All right that’s enough! Stop socializing and get cleaning! The sleep has been delayed half an hour, so we leave at 8:30.

[Train rumbling] 

[Narrator] Joe learns the ropes of being a porter from George.

Making beds...

Setting tables...

Carrying luggage...

Even shining shoes!

[Passenger 1] I’ve got an important meeting tomorrow George, so make sure they gleam.

[Passenger 2] If there’s one thing these fellows can do it’s put a nice shine on shoes.

[Joe] How did he know your name?

[George] Oh, he doesn’t.

[Joe] Huh?

[Passenger] Don’t forget to wake me right at 6:30 a.m., George. I want to hit the dining car early.

[Joe] Are you talking to me sir?

[Passenger] Nobody else here, is there?

Remember 6:30 sharp.

[Ticking watch]

[Porter 1] We start again at 3 a.m. Why don’t you just go sleep first, Joe. I’ll wake you at 1, so George can go. I’ll take the last shift. When you get up you come sit here. It’s okay if you doze a little. With any luck we can grab a bit of breakfast before the dining car gets busy.

[Train horn]



[Porter 1] Rise and shine!


[Train horn]

[Joe] Come on Joe, stay awake.

[Angry Passenger] You need to get your porters in line! That tall one was very rude to me.

[Porter 2] Ma’am, I was concerned for your safety when you open that window. You could have...

[Conductor] Quiet! I am terribly sorry ma’am! On behalf of the railway let me assure you he will be fired as soon as we get to Vancouver.

[Joe] I saw what happened. She stuck her arm all the way out the window, and you just asked her not to.

[Porter 2] And sometimes that’s all it takes.

[Joe] You didn’t want her to break her arm, so you get fired.

[Porter] I’ll try to get on with the CNR. Otherwise, well, it’ll be a long trip home I guess.

[Train rumbling]

[Passenger] Morning George! Say, how do I get to the dining car?

[Joe] It’s that way, sir, but my...

[Passenger] Thanks, George!

[Brakes screeching]

[Porter 1] Well Joe. What did you make of your first trip?

[Joe] I’m not sure yet. Some good... some bad. Do we ever get a chance to sleep properly?

[Porter 2] Son you don’t know how good you have it. At least we get to catch a few winks on this shift. Most times you just turn around and go back.

[Joe] Well, at least I have a job. And my little cousins back home kind of look up to me, you know.

I do have one question though. Why does everyone keep getting me confused with you?

We don’t even look alike.

[George] Doesn’t matter. To them, we’re all George. That’s what they call all of us porters.

After the man who started sleeping cars, George Pullman.

[Porter 2] Sure, some of them are nice and treat you well, but most of them don’t care. They just want their berth tidy and their shoes shined. Everyone on the train is our boss.

[George] But someday I’ll be a conductor and I’ll have a name tag. And then I’ll know why they’re calling me George.

[Porter 3] That’s if Black porters ever start getting promotions. Things need to change!

[Narrator] From the 1900s to the 1950s being a sleeping car porter was one of the few decent jobs a black man could get in Canada. However, being Black meant they were barred from joining any existing railway workers unions.

In 1917, Canadian porters formed the first Black railway union in North America. At first, they had to operate secretly so they wouldn’t lose their jobs. Finally, in 1945, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters signed a collective bargaining agreement with the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The new agreement led to improved working conditions and pay for Black porters.

The union continued to combat racism on the railway and, in 1953, a porter named George Garroway became the first Black conductor in the country.

[Lively music]