The Porters: The Key To Surviving The Great Depression
The Great Depression was a time of great hardship for people all over the world. But for racialized immigrants in Montreal, it was especially difficult. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the impact of the Great Depression on the Black community of Montreal, and how the city’s ports and railways played a role.
Teachers, The Porter is an excellent addition to the classroom to help teachers bring Canadian Black History alive. It is a television drama series that first aired on CBC Television in 2022, and tells the story of Black Canadian and African-American men who found work as Pullman porters after World War I. This powerful and inspiring drama follows their journey to unionise and found “The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters” – the first Black-led labour union – in 1925. Educators can use this as a tool for teaching about Canada’s complex social history and also promote deeper appreciation for the invaluable struggles of marginalized communities for equal rights over time.
Background and Context
The Great Depression hit Montreal hard. By 1932, one in four workers were unemployed. And for Black workers, the unemployment rate was even higher. Many Black workers had come to Montreal from the United States during the early 1900s, looking for better opportunities. But when the Great Depression hit, they were among the first to lose their jobs.
Racialized immigrants were also disproportionately affected by poverty and homelessness during the Great Depression. In 1933, nearly half of all relief recipients in Montreal were immigrants. And of those immigrants, 70% were from racialized groups. Black families in particular struggled to make ends meet. In 1935, one study found that 40% of Black households in Montreal were living in poverty.
The Great Depression also had a significant impact on the city’s ports and railways. During the 1930s, shipping traffic decreased dramatically as international trade came to a standstill. This had a ripple effect on port workers, many of whom were racialized immigrants. As business slowed down, workers were laid off and wages were cut. For those who managed to keep their jobs, working conditions deteriorated and safety standards became lax.
The Great Depression was a difficult time for everyone involved. But for racialized immigrants in Montreal, it was especially hard. With high rates of unemployment and poverty, many Black families struggled to make ends meet. The city’s ports and railways also felt the effects of the downturn, with shipping traffic decreasing and working conditions deteriorating. It wasn’t until after World War II that things began to improve for racialized immigrants in Montreal—but that’s a story for another day.