Exploring Black History in the Museum Collections

Exploring Black History in the Museum Collections

To celebrate Black History Month, I wanted to share an important collection that helps to illuminate Black history in mid-20th century Manitoba and Western Canada.

From the 1980s until 2010, the Manitoba Museum was the recipient of donations related to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a Black union of railway workers. (For more information, click here to read History blog Black Railway Workers and the Winnipeg General Strike)

A former curator described the museum materials as documenting “how the members of the various Black organizations…were instrumental in creating a strong social network that eventually changed the social climate in Winnipeg for Black citizens.” The solidarity of these organizations provided an important structure to counter the discrimination against the Black community in Winnipeg.

Sepia photograph of a smiling young Black man wearing a railway worker uniform. He is standing outdoors in front of a building entrance with his arms crossed in front of his chest.

This unidentified railway worker was photographed outside the Main St. entrance to the CN station in Winnipeg. Date unknown. Copyright Manitoba Museum, H9-37-208 N14036H.

The cover of a document, the agreement between The Canadian Pacific Railway Co. and Sleeping Car Porters, represented by The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, effective June 1st, 1945.

1945 Union Agreement between the CPR and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Copyright Manitoba Museum, H9-36-942b.

A photograph of a large group of primarily Black adults and children smiling outside of a brick building. Text above the photo reads, "Pilgrim Baptist Church". Text below reads, "We the Officers and Members of Pilgrim Baptist Church cordially invite you to worship with us."

The Pilgrim Baptist Church, 1952, from the Souvenir Program of a meeting of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Founded in 1924, the church was deeply intertwined with the other organizations and provided an important place for the safe expression of faith. Copyright Manitoba Museum, H9-37-195.

A poster for an Elks' Banquet & Dance, taking place on Friday, No. 29, 1963 at the Russian Hall.

Elks Poster, 1963. The Black Elks of Menelik Lodge #528 (IBPOE), was part of a North American organization promoting civil rights and community support. Copyright Manitoba Museum, H9-37-9.

Hand-written tickets to a Ladies Auxiliary fundraising and social event, 1956. The Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, established in 1945, had a great impact on the community network, especially as it related to challenges to racial discrimination in the workplace. Copyright Manitoba Museum, H9-36-975f.

A blank membership application card for the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People.

Membership application card, late 1940s. The Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People, Winnipeg Branch, was founded in 1945 at Pilgrim Baptist Church. Copyright Manitoba Museum.

Two smiling Black men sitting together. One holds a walking cane.

Former railway workers Junior Hobson and Jimmy Stevenson, circa 1990, Winnipeg. Photography by Robert Barrow, copyright Manitoba Museum.

Finally, the Porters’ Social and Charitable Association started in the late 1930s at 817 ½ Main Street, and acted as a social hub and meeting place for organizations.

The collection includes artifacts and 22 boxes of archival materials and photographs dating from the 1910s to the 1960s. Part of the collection was used to create the exhibition “Back Tracks to Railroad Ties: The First Journey, The Early History of Black People in Canada” in partnership with members of the Black community and the Archives of Manitoba, and shown at the Manitoba Museum in 1994. The Museum collection is available for researchers by appointment (COVID restrictions apply), and the Archives of Manitoba also includes a large associated collection.

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Dr. Roland Sawatzky

Curator of History

Roland Sawatzky joined The Manitoba Museum in 2011. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Winnipeg, M.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Carolina, and Ph.D. in Archaeology…
Meet Dr. Roland Sawatzky