Celebrating Black History Month: Trades

Celebrating Black History Month: Trades

Throughout the month of February we will be celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of Black Canadians as they relate to the schools at Assiniboine, this week we did some research on Black Canadians in the Trades.

Joseph Thompson, founder and CEO of Tommy’s Welding Ltd. in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and notably the uncle of Assiniboine’s School of Business Chair, Rennais Gayle, got his start in Manitoba as a journeyman welder who worked extensively with the pipefitter unions throughout the province. In 1979, Tommy began working for himself. In his black GMC truck, with his welding machine, Tommy started talking to companies to find work. It took Thompson six months to earn enough funds to add another truck to his operation. In 2019, Tommy’s Welding Ltd. celebrated 40 years of quality work including some of the largest construction jobs in Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan (Tommy's Welding Ltd., 2019).

Elijah McCoy was an African-Canadian mechanical engineer who revolutionized industrial lubrication. Throughout his career, McCoy registered over 50 patents for his inventions. Prior to his innovative discoveries, McCoy worked as a locomotive fireman, manually lubricating mechanisms on the steam-powered engines. On July 23, 1872, McCoy filed his first ever patent for his “oil-drip cup,” an automatic mechanism that distributed lubricant through a spigot. Other inventions for both locomotive and ship engines significantly influenced the efficiency of the transport industry (Block, 2019).

Lee Williams dedicated his time as Chairperson of Winnipeg Local 130 to the reformation of discriminatory clauses in the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Transport and General Workers (CBRT) collective agreement. Prior to 1964, two groups of employees existed: black men who were almost solely employed as sleeping car porters meaning they held subservient, low-wage, and low-status positions and white men in the higher paying positions. Under Canada’s Fair Employment Practices (FEP) Act, in July of 1963, Williams successfully filed an official discrimination complaint that resulted in the amalgamation of the two groups. By 1964, black employees became eligible for promotions and to work in occupations other than sleep portering (Calliste, 1995). A short documentary, “Sleeping car porters and black immigration to Manitoba”, produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 2000, showcases Williams and the plight of many black immigrants to the Canadian prairies.

We’ll share more mini biographies throughout the month! In the meantime, don’t forget to stop by the Library and check out their book display for Black History Month. You can also visit the Black History Month Library Guide.


Block, N. (2019). Elijah McCoy. In The Canadian Encyclopedia. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/elijah-mccoy

Calliste, A. (1995). The Struggle for Employment Equity by Blacks on American and Canadian Railroads. Journal of Black Studies, 25(3), 297-317. Retrieved February 5, 2021, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/2784639

Tommy’s Welding Ltd. (2019). Our History. https://www.tommyswelding.com/history

Photo credit: Canadian Encyclopedia