CBC’s “The Porter” will zone in on the lives and successes of Little Burgundy’s Black train porters

The show’s co-creators and members of the cast discuss the process of filming during COVID-19, what they hope viewers will take away from this show, and more

“The Porter,” a new CBC drama set to air on Feb. 21, will focus on the lives of the Black train porters, nurses, entertainers, and other individuals who occupied Montreal’s St. Antoine neighbourhood (now known as Little Burgundy) during the 1920s. These porters would often assist travellers at the train stations, were in charge of loading and unloading luggage, and more. The show will especially zone in on how these Black train porters came to form North America’s largest Black labour union. The Concordian spoke with co-creators Arnold Pinnock (who also plays the character Glenford), Marsha Greene, Annmarie Morais, as well as actress Oluniké Adeliyi, who plays the character Queenie, about this new drama. 

TC: Can you begin by walking me through the process of bringing together this incredible show?

AP: So I’m an immigrant, my parents are from Jamaica via England to Canada, and one of the things that I loved to do was just to find out as much information as I could to learn about […] Black Canadians. I was having a hard time in school learning about [them], other than some samples of The Underground Railroad. So any book that I could find I would start reading [to learn] about the Black Canadian experience. One of the common denominators that kept on showing up for me was porters. I found it really interesting because I found out that these men and women were from not only the Southern states, but also from the Caribbean, and that they came to this country and literally had the ability to change policy. It blew my mind that these people were able to form the biggest Black union, not just in Canada, but across North America. That just really empowered me to go down that road and then eventually, I hooked up with my writing partner, Bruce Ramsay, and we went down this rabbit hole together.

One of the things that we encountered was the Negro Community Centre (NCC) in Little Burgundy. It was boarded up and there were murals of Oscar Peterson, Oliver Jones, and Oscar Peterson’s sister. When we learned what the NCC was all about … taking care of the Black community [starting in 1927] and to help against the racism that the community was dealing with, we thought, “Hey, you know what? If we could create a series, maybe we could garnish enough money to help restore this building.” Unfortunately, three years later the building was demolished. Instead of us feeling like the passion behind it was over, it actually empowered us and we went on the journey to get this show done.

TC: What challenges, if any, did you encounter along the way? 

MG: During the course of filming there were the challenges of filming during COVID and things like that. We would remind each other about the porters, the communities, and the families, and how they fought through what they were going through. It was the thing that kept us going during those hard times. We knew that this story needed to be told and that really kept us going through all of the hard times over the years it took to bring it to life.

OA: I think, for me, the biggest challenge was making my character Queenie as human as possible so that she wasn’t this one-dimensional, gangster character, and that there was a purpose for her being who she is. It was an enjoyable experience no matter what happened. I would say my other biggest challenge was learning to play piano. It was wonderful to be able to challenge myself to learn the songs that I had to play. It was beautiful. When I started to get things, I was like, “There’s nothing I can’t do now.” There are beautiful challenges, and then there are terrible challenges. This was definitely a beautiful challenge. 

TC: Club Stardust occupies an important space in this narrative. Can you briefly walk me through how this environment was brought to life, and could you also elaborate a bit on the role that music and dance play in the show?

MG: I think music and dance are so much a part of how we connect to each other and what brings us together. I think we all felt, in the Black community, there was a sound and a rhythm that kind of felt like ours and what we wanted to explore. When we got to the post-production and editing, we started to just bring in more music. Sometimes it was contemporary […] and then we also kind of wanted to have Afro sounds and Caribbean sounds, just to kind of bring it all together. We actually filmed the Stardust stuff at the end of the shoot. We did that just in terms of the location, but it actually was this amazing burst of energy at the end of this very long, challenging shoot. To be in Stardust with all these people and to watch those dance numbers and hear the music was just incredible. 

AM: We were inspired by a club that was rooted in Montreal that was called Rockhead’s Paradise. I think there was a lot of spirit in that establishment in Montreal that we wanted to harness and create in our own way. I think that was really part of the magic of Stardust and this series. 

TC: What are you ultimately hoping that viewers take away from this show?

MG: One of our great hopes, in terms of the history, is that it would inspire people to look things up. To watch an episode and to be like “Did that happen, was it really like that?” 

I hope that the audience also takes away that no two Black people are anomalous. We are multidimensional people and we all have similar yet different lives. It’s wonderful to be able to watch because it’s relatable to any other race or culture. We have regular lives, we have families. Not every story for us is a struggle story. I’m so happy that “The Porter” displays that because it brings meaning to our lives. It allows you to see the value of us. Most of the time you can only see the value of something when it’s in you, so yes, we represent the Black community, but we also represent so many communities that have the same experience family-wise and love-wise. I think that’s what we’re promoting more than anything: to just see us.

For more information on “The Porter,” please visit CBC’s website.


Visual courtesy of CBC 


Black Canadians who made history in sports

Celebrating the contribution made by Black athletes in Canada’s history

Black History Month is about honouring Black Canadians, both past and present, who have made enormous contributions in all sectors of society. Though it has been celebrated since 1978, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada in December 1995.

To this day, Black athletes continue to captivate the nation across every sport while breaking down cultural barriers in society. As those of the past had to overcome adversity and racial discrimination transparently, today’s Black competitors remind us of the ongoing battle against racism that continues to plague the world.

Here are the stories of eight Black Canadian athletes who made history by reaching the pinnacle in sports with the odds entirely stacked against them.

George Dixon 

George Dixon was the first Canadian-born boxing champion, winning the bantamweight title in 1890. Born in Africville, Nova Scotia, Dixon would also claim the world featherweight title in 1891, after defeating Cal McCarthy in 22 rounds.

Dixon is widely credited for developing shadowboxing, a training exercise commonly used by combat sports athletes in which one throws punches at an imaginative opponent. Today, it is a staple in martial arts, acting as an effective routine to loosen and warm up the body.

John Howard 

John Armstrong “Army” Howard was a Canadian track and field athlete. At the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Howard became the first Black Olympian to represent Canada. He was born in the United States and moved to Winnipeg in 1907 with his father.

According to major Canadian media prior to the event, Howard was Canada’s best hope for gold. However, the top-ranked sprinter’s performance was hindered by a stomach ailment that saw him fail to advance to the finals in the 100m and 200m events. Howard’s impact on Canadian sports is felt through two of his grandchildren, who became Olympians themselves, Harry and Valerie Jerome.

Phil Edwards

Phil Edwards was another Canadian track and field athlete who competed in middle-distance events. He earned the nickname “Man of Bronze” for winning five Olympic bronze medals but none of other denominations. He would be Canada’s most decorated Olympic athlete until 2002.

Edwards became the first-ever winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy in 1936, an award that is bestowed annually to Canada’s top athlete. The same year, he became the first Black person to graduate from McGill University’s medical school. He would compete in the 1936 Summer Olympic Games shortly after his graduation.

Barbara Howard 

At 17 years old, Barbara Howard was one of the fastest female sprinters in the British Empire. She qualified for the 1938 British Empire Games (now named the Commonwealth Games, since 1974) after running 100 yards in 11.2 seconds, a tenth of a second faster than the British Empire Games record.

Howard is believed to be the first Black woman to represent Canada in international sports competition; however, she never got the chance to participate in the Olympic Games because of its cancellation due to World War II.

Her athletic accomplishments were recently recognized with her induction to the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

Willie O’Ree 

On Jan. 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree made history at the Montreal Forum when suiting up for the Boston Bruins, becoming the first Black player in the National Hockey League (NHL).

Today, the Bruins’ trailblazer is the director of the NHL’s diversity program, a movement that aims to ensure hockey is taught and promoted to children from all cultural backgrounds in North America. O’Ree’s number will be retired by the Bruins next season.

Angela James 

Angela James is a former Canadian ice hockey player who played senior hockey between 1980 and 2000. James played in the first women’s world championship in 1987. She would lead Team Canada to four gold medals at the IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championships in 1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997.

During her senior career, James was a six-time most valuable player and eight-time scoring champion. She is hailed as a major pioneer who enabled the women’s game to enter mainstream Canadian culture and is seen as the first superstar in modern women’s hockey.

Donovan Bailey 

Donovan Bailey became a Canadian sports icon when he set the 100m world record at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, running a time of 9.84 seconds. Bailey also anchored the 4x100m Canadian relay team to another gold metal that year. In becoming the world’s fastest man, Bailey was named “Athlete of the Decade” by Track & Field News.

The Jamaican-born athlete was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 as an individual athlete and in 2008 as a member of the 1996 Canadian champion relay team.

Jarome Iginla 

In 2002, Jarome Iginla became the first Black male athlete to win a Winter Olympic gold medal. Iginla was an alternate captain for Team Canada, where he helped lead the nation to its first Olympic hockey championship in 50 years. He notched two goals in the team’s 5-2 victory over Team USA in the finals.

Iginla played over 1,500 games in the NHL in a career that spanned from 1996-2017. In 2020, he became the fourth Black player to be inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame after Grant Fuhr, James, and O’Ree.


Collage by Kit Mergaert

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