Ode to the C-Train, a Black Invention

Chris L. Butler
2 min readDec 17, 2021

I’ve enjoyed the industrial sounds of a screeching train running across the tracks. The music that that makes. I’ve always had a love for mass transit, especially on rails. Whether light rail, subway, elevated line, trolly, or cross country I appreciated it. I felt this method of transportation represented the working classes, or me and my kinfolk.

I loved and rode public transit everywhere I could. I sat on ferries, electric lines, trolleys, regional rails, subways, and buses. It would only be natural that when I came to Calgary I would fall for the scarlet beauty known as the C-Train here in Calgary. I was happy there were more than buses in this city. Buses can be about as reliable as a flaky friendship, and Uber rides are just as costly.

I have not ridden the C-Train since the pandemic began. I missed it so much I decided to research its history. This was my way to connect with the screeching songs of my favorite mechanical beast. Trains, whether taken as a visitor or a resident, truly gives you a sampling of the flavours of the city. What I was unaware of, until my research-was that the C-Train also represented Black excellence.

Calgary’s C-Train was engineered by Oliver Bowen, a descendant of Willis Reese Bowen, and Obadiah Bowen, among the first Black immigrants to the Amber Valley region in Alberta. Barely a generation out of African enslavement in the U.S., this was a man who came from Black people building a better future for all of us. Oliver’s ancestors engineered a new future as homesteaders in Amber Valley. In 1981, Oliver would engineer mass transit for the City of Calgary.

These great Black migrants gave Calgary much of its modern identity (see John Ware). It is those same descendants of great Black migrants to Alberta like Bowen, that lassoed our city into the 21st century, just 40 years ago. In today’s political discourse, there is much talk about what statues should come down. There should also be a conversation about what statues should go up. What statues should replace them. I would love to see Oliver Bowen have a statue in our city.

The development of mass transit is one of the few things a city can do to fight climate change. New York has less drivers because the transit system works well. In a world where Black success in the sciences is overlooked, hidden, or underrepresented, I believe we should be honoring our beacons of achievement like Oliver Bowen.

Originally published by Chris L. Butler at https://www.afrosinthacity.com on December 17, 2021.

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Chris L. Butler

Black American & Dutch writer living in Canada. Author of 2 chapbooks: ‘Sacrilegious’ and ‘BLERD: ’80s BABY, ’90s KID’. 🇺🇸🇳🇱🇨🇦