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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The pier

The red brick building on the waterfront in Halifax isn't too impressive but its place in the history of Canada certainly is. Nearly a million people came through this building and went on to become a part of the kaleidoscope which is Canada.


 


The structure, known as Pier 21, was an immigration center for new Canadians between 1928 and 1971. Prior to 1928, pier 2 served that purpose, but that structure was damaged in the Halifax Explosion* of 1917 and Pier 21 eventually replaced it.


In the days when most people crossed the Atlantic by ship, Halifax was the first major Canadian port they encountered. 


 

         Some of the ships which brought immigrants to Canada. Tour guide, Faith


In those buildings, people were processed, accepted into the country and checked for disease. Many boarded trains, located between two rows of buildings, to go to family and friends in various parts of the country. Some set out on their own, not knowing anyone in Canada.



A telegraph and cable office made it possible for the immigrants to contact friends and family about their arrival and travel plans.


 


The day we were there, a cargo vessel in the harbour was reminiscent of the vessels which approached the pier all those years ago, except then, the "cargo" was priceless.


 


Families brought food products with them from their countries of origin, and like today, the items were confiscated.


 


 


A display of trunks gives one the idea just how few items people could bring with them. 


 


 


The Red Cross worked at the center, assisted anyone with medical concerns and provided a nursery for the children.


 


 


There was a store 


 


where the train passengers could buy provisions for the journey west in Colonist cars. The passengers had to provide their own food and bedding for the trip across country at a cost of $7.00.


 


The cars had a stove for the people to use.


 


We saw a video of immigrants describing their reasons for coming to this country, their journeys and their feelings on arrival. All spoke of the freedom and opportunities the country provided for them and their families through hard work. The environment, with its trees and open spaces was a factor for many as well.


Our friends, Hiltrud and Carlo Hengst were with us that day at Pier 21. They came to Canada from Berlin almost fifty years ago with their two young sons. They flew into Edmonton where another German Canadian couple helped them get established. The next year they bought their first home. The Hengsts worked hard and created a good life in this country.


 

 

                                                                       Hiltrud and Carlo Hengst


Berlin fifty years ago was a walled city and the Hengsts did not see a future there for their boys. Having been young children in Berlin during the Second World War, Hiltrud and Carlo did not want their sons to have to join the military. Only Canada and Australia were options and because they had learned about Canada from friends, they chose Canada.


The aboriginal people of this land which became Canada, were here before the rest of us who are all immigrants. Some of us have to go back generations to find original immigrant ancestors. The most recent immigrant in my family goes back four generations. I thought of him, Edward O'Brien, from Ireland, as I toured Pier 21. He was a young man on his own, who arrived in the British colony of Newfoundland, looking for a better life. 


 

                   Edward O'Brien


In the mall in Halifax the previous day, my husband and I had coffee in the food court and relaxed as we observed the people, as we usually do. The place was a mini United Nations, many races and languages and some people indicated religious affiliation with their head wear. We saw a group of elderly Asian Canadian men chatting in their first language. At the next table, an English as a Second Language teacher, instructed a group of young people using words and gestures. The young people repeated words after her, then chatted in the second language.


And so it continues... 



*During World War 1, two vessels collided in Halifax Harbour. One was a munitions ship. The huge explosion which followed, destroyed or damaged much of the city and killed about 2000 people.


 

27 comments:

DJan said...

I wish it were so easy to become a Canadian these days. Or an American, for that matter. So many people are unwanted wherever they go in the present day. I enjoyed seeing Pier 21 and the world as it existed then. I recently read a wonderful book by Annie Proulx called "Barkskins" about the lumber trade in your part of the world. It's a novel but filled with facts. :-)

Debra She Who Seeks said...

The last time we were in Halifax a couple of years ago, we toured Pier 21 and enjoyed it very much. Great museum! My last relatives who come to Canada were my maternal grandparents, who emigrated from Switzerland in 1923. They entered through Montreal, not Halifax. But the Pier 21 museum said that it was the embarkation point for Canadian soldiers being sent to Europe in World War II, so my father would have shipped out from Pier 21. The area where they boarded the ships is the one shown in your photo of the cargo vessel.

PerthDailyPhoto said...

Fascinating read Marie.. it's a huge move for people leaving behind all that is familiar. I always imagine Canada as being a welcoming destination. Even today with the refugee situation.

Debbie said...

so impressive, because of it's history, much of which i learned here. sad the amount of belongs one could bring, but at least they were able to bring some personal items. i love those trunks!!!

Ginnie said...

These "museums" are so educational, Marie, to those of us who who learn about the days of yore in other countries. Of course, Canada's stories are not unlike those of ours in America. Thanks for sharing this.

The Happy Whisk said...

Oh my gosh, I really LOVE that desk. Oven/stove thing cool too.

Elephant's Child said...

What a wonderful place. And hooray for the care which was provided to those 'new' Canadians. Travelling half a world to start again must have been so very frightening for so many. Exciting, but frightening too.

bill burke said...

A wonderful history lesson Marie. The story still continues today for those seeking a better life and hopefully they will find it and be accepted.
Thanks for such a fantastic post and photos!

Anvilcloud said...

That would be a neat place to see. I think my grandparents all bypasses it for Quebec City or Montreal.

Marie Smith said...

I'll look for that book, Jan.

Marie Smith said...

I hadn't heard of the military connection to the pier, Debra. Thank you for sharing.

Marie Smith said...

Canada wasn't always a welcoming place, PDP. We have taken in refugees recently however.

Marie Smith said...

The refugees today come with far less, Debbie.

Marie Smith said...

I can't tell you the number of times we are mistaken for Americans when we travel, Ginnie. Our North American accent is a great equalizer in one sense.

Marie Smith said...

The trunks were great too, HW.

Marie Smith said...

We moved to another province in Canada. I can only imagine what it must be like to move to another country, another language etc. These are not average people to begin with..

Marie Smith said...

Pier 21 highlights how fortunate we are that our immigrant ancestors made the move to better their lives and subsequently ours. Thanks for visiting, Bill

Marie Smith said...

I hope you get to see Pie 21 sometime, AC. It makes you appreciate those ancestors all the more, I think.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this interesting post and photos. I hope you are having an enjoyable afternoon.

Marie Smith said...

Sarah at Down by the sea commented: That was a fascinating post to read particularly as my great grandmother emigrated to Canada in 1907 although her destination was Quebec. I wonder whether there was a similar set up there. Sarah x

Marie Smith said...

Sarah at Don by the Sea is here: http://downbytheseadorset.blogspot.ca/

Sarah I apologize for not posting your comment directly. This is the second time I have had trouble posting comments recently. Marie

Marie Smith said...

Thank you for visiting, Mildred. Have a great weekend!

Down by the sea said...

Sorry you are have had problems posting comments thank you for redoing it. Sarah x

The Happy Whisk said...

Yes, I was looking over just now again. My hubby loves trunks. They're pretty cool.

Marie Smith said...

I was surprised to see the sections in the child's trunk, HW. I've only ever seen open space trunks.

The Furry Gnome said...

Oh, I recognized that building immediately! My wife arrived at pier 21 as a child of 5 with her brothers and sister, all shepherded along by their mother. Her father had come 5 years earlier to build a new life. We visited about 15 years ago, and it was fascinating for me, emotional for her!

Marie Smith said...

How wonderful, FG. It must have been emotional for your wife! How hard her family must have worked!