MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM — February is Black History Month, and in recognition of it, the Western Development Museum (WDM) Virtual Coffee Club will be hosting “Black Railway Porters in Saskatchewan” in memory of the contributions made by Black people in Canada. The event will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 10 a.m.
“We’re looking for things that we can share with folks no matter where they live. The Coffee Club has been a good way for people to join over the internet from anywhere and to bring presentations to life,” said Karla Rasmussen, education/public programs co-ordinator.
The presentation is about “Black Railway Porters in Saskatchewan.” This also marks the historical events to recognize people of colour, especially those who are black and their involvement with rail communication.
People who are not familiar with the story of Black railway porters in Saskatchewan should know that as the railways across Canada were being completed from as early as the 1880s, Black railway porters were an integral part of those trains.
These people did all sorts of jobs from cleaning train cars, making beds, stoking fires, to shining shoes. They were almost exclusively Black men or men of African descent.
Historically, they weren’t treated well, which is one of the reasons to tell their stories.
Rasmussen says, “History has a lot of good things, inspiring things, (as well as) darker stories which need highlighting.”
She also says that within the presentation, photographs will be shown from the WDM’s archives, along with documents from that time. Executive Director of the Saskatchewan African Canadian Heritage Museum, Carol LaFayette-Boyd, and Kaiti Hannah, WDM Curatorial Associate, will be the co-presenters.
LaFayette-Boyd has been named the 2022 World Masters Athlete of the year and won the same honour in 2018. She was born in 1942 on a farm near McGee, Sask. In 1956, when she was 14 years old, she was the only black student attending Sheldon-Williams Collegiate. She later followed in her sister’s footsteps and studied psychiatric nursing at the Sask. Hospital in Weyburn. She is a descendant of former slave spy James Armistead LaFayette, and her ancestral family ran away from the United States to escape slavery. When the LaFayette family came to settle in Saskatchewan, they soon got involved with railway potters.
Rasmussen believes this presentation will make people who come to the WDM regularly will view trains from a different perspective. She says, “Through everyone’s eyes, a lot of our museum artifacts and exhibits look at things from a western settlement where people come from all over Europe or the United States.”
She believes if people go to the rail exhibits after this presentation, they will look at the train carriages, engines and other sorts of things from the perspective of black men who were working on the trains in this province.
Rasmussen says, “I think that this will bring them a new perspective and gives them a greater appreciation for their lives.”
Registration is free for this virtual coffee club, and anyone can join with a computer, laptop or by using a phone device. For registration visit https://wdm.ca/coffeeclub/.
This article has been updated to correct information on the family of Carol LaFayette-Boyd.