The Story of Charles Daniels

Sherman Grand Theatre, Calgary, Alberta | c. 1912 | Glenbow Archives NA-4385-3

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Written by Caroline Loewen

Charles Daniels worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway during the early 20th century as an inspector for porters. At the time, one of the few jobs for black men was as sleeping car porters, where they attended to travellers’ needs aboard sleeping cars. Many of these men experienced racial discrimination on the job, including being excluded from unions based on race and being referred to by passengers by demeaning names like ‘George’ or ‘boy’.

Sherman Grand Theatre, Calgary, Alberta / c. 1912 / Glenbow Archives NA-4385-3

On February 3, 1914, Charles Daniels purchased two tickets to the Shakespeare play King Lear playing at the Grand Theatre. However, when he arrived, he was denied entrance and was told he would have to settle for a ticket in the balcony. Daniels launched a court case against the theatre for discrimination.

Transcript excerpt from Charles Daniels’s examination for discovery / 1914 / Provincial Archives of Alberta


William Sherman, the theatre’s proprietor, explained the reason in court proceedings, saying, “Regarding the coloured people, our audience objects very much—and I like their money as well as anyone else’s, and it is not for that I object, but the audience complains.”

The case never went to trial, but there were rumours that Daniels was awarded $1000 by default, as no one appeared in court for the defence. This could mean that the theatre decided to settle out of court to avoid further embarrassment.

The Albertan, March 26, 1914

Whatever the legal outcome, we know that William Sherman was removed from his position at the Grand Theatre a few months later. There’s no evidence of this in the court documents though, so the case may have remained unresolved. The owner of the Grand Theatre at the time was James Lougheed, the same man who built Lougheed House.

James Lougheed and Charles Daniels’ lives could have intersected in Calgary. They both worked for the CPR and they both loved the theatre, yet their experiences are a world apart due to the difference in opportunities available and the discrimination faced by black people in Calgary.

Want to learn more about Charles Daniels? Read more from Bashir Mohamed about Calgary’s Unknown Civil Rights Champion or watch Cheryl Foggo’s documentary Secret Calgary: Kicking Up A Fuss.

Do you have any stories that you think Calgarians should know about?

Tell your side of the story at Lougheed House Civil Space – Lougheed House Re-Imagined.

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