Pier 21 The gateway that changed Canada forever. A presentation by Marzieh, 2003-2004.
Introduction • 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 children. 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 two-storey 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 Canada. 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 decade. • 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 sailing. Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
The War Years • Beginning in 1939, the departure of troops through the Pier 21 was a common, almost daily occurrence. 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. http://novascotia.cbc.ca/features/pier21/
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 Canada.
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 children. 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 • 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. Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
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 past. • 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 • 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 Canada. www.historyattractions.com Courtesy of www.pier21.ca
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. www.pier21.ca 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 www.pier21.ca
Resources • Websites: • http://www.pier21.ca/ • http://novascotia.cbc.ca/features/pier21/ • http://www.canadianwarbrides.com/pie r21.html • Books: • Pier 21: The gateway that changed Canada –By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic • Pier 21: Gateway of Hope –By Linda Granfield