MHS Smarty Party: 20 October 2022

Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: John Ashley Robinson (c1883-1950)

Railway porter, labour leader.

Born at St. Kitts, British West Indies around 1883, he spent time at New York City before coming to Winnipeg in 1907 where he worked as a porter for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

In April 1917, he was one of four founders of the Order of Sleeping Car Porters, the first Black railway union in North America, to advocate for better wages and working conditions for Black railway workers. He was able to convince the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Employees to accept black porters as auxiliary members. In 1947, he retired and returned to St. Kitts.

For much of his life in Winnipeg, he lived at 220 Selkirk Avenue with his wife Lucy Lena Robinson (1884-1941) and their daughter Violet Lucy Lillian Robinson (c1906-1947, wife of Henry S. Fisher and Arthur Hurt). He was a member of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Masons (Regent Lodge), Order of the Eastern Star, and Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks.

He died at Basseterre, St. Kitts, British West Indies on 5 August 1950.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Craig Block (795 Main Street, Winnipeg)

Sources:

Classified advertisement, Winnipeg Tribune, 7 September 1918, page 16.

1921 Canada census, Ancestry.

“Engagements,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 May 1927, page 6.

“Winnipeg members extend welcome to Grand Exalted Ruler Afro-American Elks,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 May 1937, page 20.

Death registration [Lucy Lena Robinson], Manitoba Vital Statistics.

Obituary [Mrs. John A. Robinson], Winnipeg Tribune, 19 August 1941, page 5.

Obituary [Violet Lucy Lillian Hurt], Winnipeg Tribune, 28 August 1947, page 46.

“Rail union organizer, J. A. Robinson dies,” Winnipeg Free Press, 13 September 1950, page 36.

“North of the colour line: Sleeping car porters and the battle against Jim Crow on Canadian rails, 1880-1920” by Sarah-Jane Mathieu, Labour/Le Travail, Volume 47 (Spring 2001), pages 9-41.

Black railway workers and the Winnipeg General Strike” by Leah Morton, Manitoba Museum History Blog, 13 November 2020.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 27 January 2022

Memorable Manitobans

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