They Call Me George: Black Sleeping Car Porters and the making of Modern Canada

  • February 07, 2022
  • 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
  • Zoom virtual meeting

Cecil Foster, PhD

Foster was born in Barbados which still provides much material for his writing across genres. He moved to Toronto, Canada, where his writing blossomed and where he eventually became a full-time scholar/academic, completing his PhD at York University in 2002. He was a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Guelph. Currently, he is Professor, Director of Graduate Studies, and Associate Director of Canadian Studies in the Department of Transnational Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo. An author of several acclaimed works of fiction and non-fiction, such as They Call me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada, Foster is one of Canada’s leading public intellectuals on issues of citizenship, culture, multiculturalism, politics, race, ethnicity and immigration. According to the New York Times newspaper (Nov. 5, 2002), he is one of Canada’s leading fiction voices, who depicts the immigration experience and provides a non-traditional perspective on Canada, citizenship and issues of belonging.

As a well-respected journalist and columnist, Foster has worked with major print and broadcast media in the Caribbean and Canada. In Canada he worked for several major media outlets including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Financial Post, CBC Radio and TV. He was also the host of Urban Talk, a talk show on the Toronto Radio station CFRB 1010AM.  He contributed to several leading Canadian magazines, such as Chatelaine, Toronto Life, Report on Business Magazine, and Maclean’s. Public advocacy is important to him and  is one of the threads weaving his working life.

They Call Me George: Black Sleeping Car Porters and the making of Modern Canada

Smartly dressed and smiling, Canada’s black train porters were a familiar sight to the average passenger—yet their minority status rendered them politically invisible, second-class in the social imagination that determined who was and who was not considered Canadian. Subjected to grueling shifts and unreasonable standards—a passenger missing his stop was a dismissible offense—the so-called Pullmen of the country’s rail lines were denied secure positions and prohibited from bringing their families to Canada.

It was their struggle against the racist Dominion that laid the groundwork for the multicultural nation we know today. Drawing on the experiences of these influential black Canadians, Cecil Foster will explain how They Call Me George demonstrates the power of individuals and minority groups in the fight for social justice and shows how a country can change for the better.

This event is part of the Winter 2022 Speaker series. 

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