My Dad Was A Train Porter in the 1950s

My Dad in the 1950s when he worked as a porter for the Canadian Pacific Railroad

My father was a porter for the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the late 1950s . He was a medical student at the University of Manitoba at the time. During the academic year my mother took in three or four university students as boarders in our house on Home Street in Winnipeg. The students rented a bedroom in our home and Mom cooked and cleaned and did laundry for them in order to bring in the cash necessary to maintain our family of five.

Dad had several part time jobs to support his family during his university years in the 1950s. Here he is with three close friends who shared an orderly position with him at the Misericordia Hospital.

Dad augmented our family income with a variety of jobs during the school year, initially working as an orderly at the Misericordia Hospital and later driving a Winnipeg taxi cab in the evenings after his classes. He would come home from his shifts and study. I am not sure when he slept.

In summer our university boarders who came from rural Manitoba, left the city and so did my Dad. He had a job as a railway porter. He usually worked the Winnipeg to Vancouver route through the Rocky Mountains.

I wish I had a photo of Dad in his porter uniform but I do have some pieces of memorabilia from his porter years which I found among his things while packing for his recent move to a personal care home. One is this menu from the train’s Skyline Coffee Shop. Dad will have delivered passengers items they ordered from it’s menu.

Check out the prices on the menu. You could have a hamburger for 55 cents and a tongue sandwich for 35 cents. Coffee or a doughnut were only 15 cents.
The CPR menu back

Another thing I remember Dad having was a state of the art shoe shining kit. One of his jobs on the train was to polish passengers shoes at night. This was a service offered if they had rented a sleeper compartment. They left their shoes outside their door and during the night Dad polished them. He used the same kit to polish our family’s shoes on Saturday nights. Sunday morning we would find them lined up by the front door all polished and ready for us to wear to church.

Dad’s work as a porter on the train helped bring in the income he and Mom needed to care for our family of five while Dad completed medical school. This photo was taken in 1958 one of the years Dad was a porter.

Another memory I have of Dad’s porter years are the special things he would bring home from the train. One of Dad’s jobs was to clean up all the cars and compartments when the train returned to Winnipeg. Sometimes he would bring home things he found that people had left behind.

One item I discovered among Dad’s belongings recently, was this cookie tin. I distinctly remember him bringing it home because I so admired the ballet dancer on it. But the real treat was that the tin was nearly full of delicious shortbread cookies. A passenger had only eaten one or two and left the rest behind.

I have been reading with interest about the new eight part television series which is being filmed here in Winnipeg called Porter. It will focus on the Black porters who worked on the trains in Canada and their historic efforts to establish a union. I am also hoping the series will give me more of an idea of what was involved with the job of being a porter.

The CPR station in Winnipeg where my Dad got on the train in the 1950s- Photo from Canadian Transport Sourcebook

Summers when Dad worked on the CPR trains was also the time Mom could take a break from running her boarding house for university students so she would go on a train trip as well with her three children.

CNR Station in Winnipeg circa 1950s- Photo from the Canadian Transport Sourcebook

We went to the CNR station in Winnipeg and took the train to my mother’s parents’ home in Drake, Saskatchewan for a long visit. I loved those train trips and especially the CNR station with its high domed ceiling and model train set you could watch for hours.

Trains played an important role in my family’s life in the 1950s.

Other posts…….

Station of Tears

My Book Has A Cover

My Dad Was Once a Teacher

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Filed under Family, History, Winnipeg

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