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.
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.