Pier 21
The gateway that changed Canada forever.
A presentation by Marzieh, 2003-2004.
If a building could speak, it’s walls whisper, it’s
floors utter a word, then Halifax’s pier 21 would
have an incredible story to tell.
From 1928 to 1971, this long,
low lying shed in Halifax’s
waterfront greeted a steady
steam of ocean liners, and
was Canada’s front door to
over a million immigrants,
refugees, wartime evacuees,
troops, war brides and their
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
The Beginning
On March 28, 1928, the Nieuw Amsterdam was
the first vessel to be received at the newly
opened Pier 21, a large immigration complex
situated on the prime waterfront property in the
South end of Halifax.
This building was surely one of the most modern
buildings of its time, it had been erected as a
replacement for Pier 2, an aging, sagging
structure which was no longer capable of
handling the immigrant traffic to Halifax.
The Beginning
The newly completed Pier 21 of that time was twostorey building, 584 feet in length which was
connected by covered ramps to an annex and
to the nearby railway stations.
Over the next forty years of
it’s opening, pier 21 was
to greet a process of
steady stream of
newcomers to Canada. In
time it was to become
known as the Gateway to
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
The Great Depression
In 1929 an estimated 165,000
immigrants were received at
Pier 21. The arrival of a
large ocean liner meant that
as many as 1,500
newcomers would flood the
reception area at one time,
each hoping to be promptly
examined and accessed
entry into the nation that
would allow them to live a
new life.
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
The Great Depression
But then, during the 1930s the number of
newcomers arriving annually dwindled to a
mere one-tenth of the numbers of the previous
The era of the great depression had settled over
North America, and therefore ocean traffic, and
immigration was greatly reduced as the
economic times grew increasingly difficult.
But then the decade of 1930’s was destined to end
quit unhappily as war was declared against
Germany. It was the beginning of World War II.
The War Years
In the weeks immediately following
the declaration of World War II,
Pier 21 was quickly readied for her
part in what was to unfold.
As a year-round port on the east
coast, Halifax had to play a very
important role in the movement of
the troops to the European front.
It was estimated that 368,000
troops were to be transported
across Canada in 300 ships
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
The War Years
Beginning in 1939, the departure of troops through
the Pier 21 was a common, almost daily
During this time much of the
military’s maneuvers at Pier
21 was shrouded in secrecy.
Neither the public nor the
press had access to
departure timetables. Ships
arrived and left during all
hours of day and night,
always under protection.
The War Years
The war also brought to Pier 21 an unlikely group
of ocean travelers. As the war had begun,
Britain had initiated a plan to evacuate British
children to Canada and other British dominions.
Of course the plan was very well received, but
unfortunately during this time two vessels
carrying young Britons were destroyed at see.
Therefore many people decided against their
participation in the program and by 1941 only
about 3’000 children had been evacuated to
The War Years
The vital contributions made by Pier 21 to the war
effort is not well known. Through out the war
years Pier 21 witnessed it all: departure and
return of thousands of hundreds and thousands
of troops, the coming and going of the prisoners
of war, the return of the wounded, the disabled
and the dead.
And as always the
arrival of people,
passionate to find a
better place to live.
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
War Brides & Refugees
The Second World War had left Europe in a state
of complete devastation. At this time Canada,
as well as Pier 21 immediately became involved
in helping the victims of war: The refugees, and
the Displaced Persons.
At the same time all available ships were enlisted
to bring back the troops to Canada. This was a
joyous and yet grim one, for each day, it
became more and more apparent this war had
cost many lives and spirits.
War Brides & Refugees
During the final years of war, preparations were
underway for transporting to Canada 48,000
women who had met and married Canadian
servicemen during the war, and their 22,000
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
These War Brides mostly
came from England,
Scotland and Wales, as
well as Holland, France,
Belgium and Italy.
War Brides & Refugees
Many of these young women had struggled
throughout the war years, and had now come t
a foreign land, with children in their hands, and
very little information, to start a new life.
Later in 1949, the arrival of yet another group of
refugees attracted public attention. Orphans,
with their parents lost, alone in a new land.
The plight of these post-war refugees had a
profound effect on many ordinary Canadians,
who embraced and welcomed these people into
their lives.
People of the Pier
One of the most important factors that allowed
Pier 21 to become as great as it was were the
people of the Pier.
They were the workers and the volunteers, from
various organizations as well as the public who
kept everything running.
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
Many who passed through the
doors of Pier 21 remember to
this day, and are grateful for
the kindness that they received
upon entering Canada.
People of the Pier
Throughout the war years and the decades that
followed, interpreters and volunteers proficient
in languages other than English were in great
demand in Halifax.
Organizations such as YWCA offered counseling
services and helped in locating residence and
employment for immigrants.
Chaplains representing various denominations
continued to stand in Pier 21 as well, ready to
assist those in need.
A New Wave of Canadians
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
For Pier 21, the 1950s
was a decade of
animated activity, and
energetic immigration
to Canada. Along with
the new arrivals came a
rich and colorful mosaic
of culture, customs and
ethnic particularities,
that continue to enrich
this country to this day.
The Ending of an Era
By the end of the 1950s, the era of Pier 21 was slowly
drawing to a close. The age of the jet liner had
arrived, and ocean liners were quickly fading into the
Throughout the 1960s the aging Pier continued to be
upgraded, perhaps as a tangible protest to her
inevitable retirement.
By the end of the decade, as ocean
traffic all but ceased, a facility
like Pier 21 was no longer
needed. And so, in March of
1971, Pier 21 was quietly closed.
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
Preserving the Legacy
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
In March of 1971, the
Immigration Service left
Pier 21. The lights were
turned off and the doors
locked. No one paid
much attention to the
structure that had
operated, for a
memorable 43 years,
during significant periods
of immigration to
Preserving the Legacy
Today, Pier 21 is alive, once
again with the steps of people
walking through it’s doors.
Though, now, they enter gazing
in awe at the silent walls, at the
floors and at all the things that
are in this national heritage
museum, as remembrance of the
million rushing through these
doors, and as a remembrance of
the great legacy of this
magnificent historic landmark.
Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
The Voices of the Past
Today it stands, rested into a gracious sleep;
proud of the brilliant, and humanitarian role that
she played for decades. A simple structure, a
building on Halifax’s waterfront. Within it’s walls
are voices, whispers, the stories of men and
women, of millions struggled, and braved all
dangers, to walk through these doors, within
their hearts hope and uncertainty.
Pier 21 stands, all its stories distant memories of
the past, of a dynamic and colorful chapter of
Canadian history, of a building that changed the
lives of millions, and helped build a nation.
The End
• http://novascotia.cbc.ca/features/pier21/
• http://www.canadianwarbrides.com/pie
• Pier 21: The gateway that changed
Canada –By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
• Pier 21: Gateway of Hope –By Linda

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