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BLACK HISTORY MONTH (FEBRUARY 2017): A long history of activism

March 5th, 2017 · No Comments

Grizzle tried to change system from within

By Paul Lawrie

FROM THE ARCHIVES: In honour of Black History Month, we reprint the following article, which was originally published in our February 2003 edition. Stanley G. Grizzle was one of “Blackhurst’s” many early heroes, and we profiled him twice in these pages. He was also featured in a November piece on local war veterans, which is available on our website. Stanley G. Grizzle, who lived to his 98th year, passed away last November, one day after Remembrance Day.

A lifelong Annex resident, Stanley G. Grizzle has dedicated his life to the struggle for equality along racial and labour lines. A tireless advocate for fighting the good fight, this spry octogenarian is the embodiment of the ethos of the “political as personal”.

“The first time I truly felt Canadian was when I handed out that first set of citizenship papers”—Stanley G. Grizzle

Grizzle, featured in a Remembrance Day tribute to local veterans, was born in Toronto into a family of Jamaican immigrants. Although the racial climate in Toronto was somewhat more hospitable than in most southerly climes, this was perhaps due more to the relatively small numbers of Blacks than any vaunted sense of Canadian racial equality.

One of Grizzle’s most vivid childhood memories is that of his father being slashed by an assailant while sleeping in his cab outside Union Station. It was a scar that the elder Grizzle carried to his grave.

The Grizzle family belonged to the Bloor Street United Church, and Stanley attended Harbord Collegiate Institute for three years. However, his education was cut short by pragmatic concerns born of the racial reality of the time. As he remembers now, “what was the point of getting an education if it wasn’t going to lead anywhere?”

One of the few avenues available to Black men in the 1930s and 40s was that of a railway Pullman porter. Grizzle soon joined this almost exclusively Black vocation when he became a porter aboard the Canadian Pacific Railway. He made runs from Toronto to Vancouver, Montreal, Chicago, New York, and Detroit. Porters would work in excess of 18 hours a day, catching naps whenever they could. Grizzle recalls that in 1940 he worked approximately 400 hours a month for the sum of $75.

In addition to their hectic schedule, porters suffered the daily indignity of being addressed by passengers with the all-encompassing pejorative term of “George”.

“It was always ‘Hey George, how you doing?’ and ‘George, can you do this,’” recalls Grizzle.

The origin of the moniker dates to George Pullman, the inventor of the Pullman car, who hired Blacks to work aboard his railcars as a helping hand during the difficult time of Reconstruction in the 1870s. It was this practice that inspired the title of Grizzle’s autobiography: My name is not George.

With the advent of World War Two, Grizzle was conscripted, like many other young Black men, into the Army. However, his enthusiasm for King and Colony was less than enthusiastic. Defence of a way of life in which he could not partake was no great incentive for duty. But the army was where Grizzle’s activism began.

After refusing to serve as an officer’s batman, as it was not regimental duty, Grizzle was sentenced to four weeks of latrine duty, after which he went on a three-day strike. Assuming he was not going to survive the carnage of war. Grizzle decided that he was not “going to stand for any injustice”.

As a result of his strike Grizzle was assigned to the quartermaster store and left with a profound sense of individual rights. Returning from the war with the rank of corporal, he was one of the founding members of the Toronto CPR Division of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Canada’s first and only Black union. In 1959, he ran as a candidate for the Ontario Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in the provincial election, and served as a delegate to the Toronto Labour Council.

In 1962, Grizzle, along with fellow civil rights activist Donald Moore, was instrumental in persuading Ottawa to rescind its immigration laws that had long cited race as an exclusionary category for prospective immigrants, changing the face of Canadian society forever.

Perhaps Grizzle’s proudest moment came in 1977 when the [Pierre] Trudeau government appointed him a citizenship court judge.

“The first time I truly felt Canadian was when I handed out that first set of citizenship papers.”

The only thing that exceeds Grizzle’s numerous achievements is his desire to share them with the younger generation. He understands the alienation that some youth feel, but argues that the only way to change things is to work within the system, rather than forsaking it altogether.

And, as proof, Grizzle points to himself and the changes gained through his own individual activism.

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