Presenting: Pier 21: Canada’s Front Door to Millions of Immigrants

I am fascinated by human stories and by intercultural connections. The immigrant experience combines both these elements. On the continuum of intercultural experiences from tourist to traveller to long-term visitor / expatriate to becoming a permanent resident in a new country, the immigrant experience involves the most extreme and intense form of cultural interchange, and often confrontation. As an immigrant myself, I have experienced first-hand the effects of culture shock and it took me about 4 years to really settle emotionally in my new home country of Canada.Along these lines, here is an interview with Maria McGowan, Communications Manager for Pier 21, Canada’s immigration museum, a national historic site in Halifax, Nova Scotia.1. Pier 21 is Canada’s immigration museum. Please tell us more about Pier 21, its location and facilities and what it is today.From the twenties to the seventies, Pier 21 was Canada’s ‘front door’ to over a million immigrants, wartime evacuees, refugees, troops, war brides and their children. This enriched our social and cultural landscape and uplifted the very soul of a nation forever.Pier 21, a National Historic Site, has been transformed into a testament to Canada’s profoundly emotional immigration experience. The sheer impact of the interactive displays, virtual projections and abundance of fascinating images is simply overwhelming.Part of Canada’s past and what continues to shape our future began at Pier 21. You will find photographs and the names of passengers and ships. Also, you will see actual passports, immigration papers and even ships’ menus from this time.This year-round facility is much more than a visitor attraction. It is a unique and authentic glimpse into our history that you and your family will never forget.2. Please tell us more about the Exhibition Hall, the centerpiece of Pier 21.The Rudolph Peter Bratty Exhibition Hall is the centerpiece of Pier 21. Designed to represent the different stages of immigration, the exhibit invites visitors to trace the same path that immigrants followed as they journeyed to a new country. This highly interactive exhibit recreates the immigration experience with the use of innovative displays, evocative soundscapes and interactive technology.- Leaving Home The decision to leave home was often filled with great uncertainty. Through photographs, interpretive panels and personal artifacts, visitors see how immigration was influenced by world events.- The Voyage Until the 1960’s, almost all immigrants arrived by ship. Find out what it was like to travel across the Atlantic to a new world. The Secunda Wall of Ships showcases the photographs of the top 100 ships to call on Pier 21.- Immigration Hall Upon arrival of Pier 21, passengers would disembark and proceed to the examination hall. This area has been recreated with wooden benches, wire cages and an immigration officer who may ask to see your papers.- Customs Trunks were inspected in the baggage room. A model of the original Pier 21 immigration complex shows the location of the baggage room, detention area, dormitories and train station.- The Annex Volunteers played a special role welcoming newcomers. The Red Cross volunteers ran a nursery for families. Representatives from different religious denominations were on hand to greet new arrivals. This area pays tribute to those who helped immigrants in so many ways.- Face of Immigration Listening stations tell the stories of the home children, British evacuee children, the military, volunteers, staff, refugees and immigrants from three different time periods in the history of Pier 21.- World War II Deck Between 1939 and 1947, the Department of National Defense took over Pier 21. 494,000 Canadian troops departed from Pier 21 to serve overseas. It is here where these troops bravely boarded ships for WWII.- Travel Across Canada For most people passing through Pier 21, the next stage was train travel. Less than 5% of arrivals at Pier 21 stayed in Nova Scotia. Visitors step aboard a recreated CN railcar and watch the Canadian countryside flash by the train windows. Inside the railcar, interviews of actual Pier 21 alumni sharing their memories are shown.- Andrea and Charles Bronfman – In-Transit Theatre “Oceans of Hope” A 24-minute virtual projection presentation portrays the emotional stories of those who passed through Pier 21.3. Please tell us about the Library and Resource Centre.Our Resource Centre houses a wealth of information valuable to individuals who arrived at Pier 21, their descendents, researchers, historians, school groups and other interested parties. The Resource Centre possesses unique images compiled from sources such as the National Archives, Sisters of Service, Canadian National Railway, Halifax Port Corporation and the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, many of which are on display in the Exhibit Hall. The collection also includes newspaper photographs, the “Day in the Life of Pier 21” series donated by Ken Elliot, the Allan S. Tanner Collection of images depicting Canadian troops returning to Pier 21 in 1945, and the Francis E. Murphy Collection which documents the building of the piers. It has a small but growing collection of books on topics such as Canadian immigration, the Canadian military in World War II, multiculturalism and other areas of study related to Pier 21.Four computer terminals are available where our website, stories database, ship database and other electronic resources may be accessed. Visitors may search electronically for the basic arrival information of anyone who immigrated through a Canadian port between 1925 and 1935. Immigration records of individuals who entered Canada through Quebec City, Montreal, Halifax and Saint John between 1925 and 1935 may be accessed on microfilm.The microfilm records are very popular because they contain the responses to the twenty-eight questions that a prospective immigrant had to answer before being allowed to enter Canada.The Resource Centre houses photographs of 90% of the ships that brought immigrants to Halifax between 1928 and 1971, and we are constantly adding to our collection. The Resource Centre has all of the videotaped immigrant interviews conducted by the CBC in the year before we opened, news coverage of the Pier 21 project, documentaries and several films on topics related to Canadian immigration. One of Pier 21’s most important projects has been collecting the personal recollections of immigrants, war brides, service men and women, British guest children and home children. Many visitors enjoy this collection in the Centre and choose to write their own arrival stories after seeing it. The Pier 21 experience is greatly enhanced by a visit to the Resource Centre.

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