Pier 21 National Historic Site

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by moatway on April 6, 2005

Pier 21 is a National Historic Site. Don’t let that put you off… it is really marvelous. Between 1928 and 1971, one million people entered Canada through the pier and today, their stories are told here. It is about to expand, and over the next few years it will become more than Pier 21, it will become the Canadian Immigration Museum.

This isn’t a museum of static exhibits. There are some, but they are not of paramount importance. This is an aural museum where one listens to the voices of those who arrived in this country often after having faced considerable hardship. There are a quite a number of listening posts. Those on the harbour-side tell representational anecdotes of the lives of the English home children of the 1930s, the 1940s English children sent out of the war zone, soldiers returning from the war, and the refugees of the 1950s, particularly the Hungarians, etc. There are also the stories of the volunteers and officials who worked here. On the other side, a railcar represents many immigrants’ transportation to the interior of the country. Inside are booths in which the visitor can see testimonials from people who came through the facility. Their stories are often incredibly touching, sometimes humorous, but always significant.

In the center of the room is a representational immigration hall where people once waited for the chance to talk to the immigration officers. If you take the time to sit on one of the benches, hidden speakers will broadcast the voices of those who once sat in this situation. A distinctly English woman remarked, "A poor excuse for a country this is--paper money and wooden houses. We should have gone to Australia." I expect she said it again after the first snow storm.

The highlight of the visit is the presentation in the Bronfman auditorium. A 25-minute show features not actors, but holograms. The stage is set up with a ship’s gangway on the left, the immigration hall in the middle and a railcar on the right. Holograms, three-dimensional figures, tell the stories of those who passed through here. It was both technologically extraordinary and a wonderful experience.

I can’t say enough about Pier 21. Both of us found it exceptional… it was an emotional experience even though neither of our families came through here. As a final, and perhaps typical, point… a display documents the 1948 arrival of 347 Estonian refugees in the converted minesweeper, Walnut. The Walnut would have ordinarily carried a complement of 18 men. Although the entry might have been illegal, it was a powerful statement of what this country means and can do.

If you are in Halifax, you can’t miss it. For more information, go to Pier 21.

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
1055 Marginal Road
Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 4P6
(902) 425 7770


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