Written by Cheryl Buckley of PPWC Local 1
Sleeping Car Porters had long been a job that only black men were hired for. Their duties included making up sleeping berths, shining shoes, serving meals, cleaning, etc. It was a very demanding job with a high level of responsibility and little rest.
Speaking of rest, a sleeping car porter was not given a berth of his own for his rest period but a fold out seat that provided little comfort. It was also the only job that a black man could get working for the railroad – any railroad in North America, period.
Sleeping car porters were often well educated and over qualified for this type of work but because of widely accepted racist attitudes, it was often considered one of the better jobs available to black men between the late 1800s all the way till the 1950s.
Frank Collins was the oldest brother of four that worked as a sleeping car porter based out of Vancouver B.C. In 1945 after signing a collective agreement with The Canadian Pacific Railway, the first meeting of the Brotherhood of Sleep Car Porters (BOSCP) was held and Frank Collins was voted President of the Vancouver division.
At the same meeting, Asa Philip Randolph, a founding member of BOSCP, also established a branch of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People. Unionization brought better pay, better treatment of the workers and finally, some job security to the lives of the workers.
Frank remained with CPR until 1956 when he became a bus driver, where he served as business agent and representative as a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union. He continued to serve as President of CLACP, which had since been renamed to the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People well into the 70s and in doing so, helped improve the lives of black people in Canada for over 25 years.