________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 19 . . . . May 16, 2008


Pier 21: Stories From Near and Far. (Canadian Immigration Series).

Anne Renaud.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2008.
24 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-1-897073-70-4.

Subject Headings:
Ports of entry-Nova Scotia-Halifax-History-20th century-Juvenile literature.
Canada-Emigration and immigration-History-20th century-Juvenile literature.
Immigrants-Canada-History-20th century-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Marilynne V. Black.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



As Hitler's war machine advanced across Europe, England soon realized it too might be invaded. In the summer of 1940, German bombs fell on London. At night, air raid sirens wailed and people scrambled into bomb shelters. Fearful for their children, many British families decided to send them to other countries for safekeeping. These countries included the United States, Australia, South Africa, and Canada.

Most of the ships carrying British evacuee children also traveled in convoy. However, this did not prevent them from being targeted by the enemy. On the night of September 17, 1949, The S.S. City of Benares was steaming towards Halifax when suddenly there was a huge blast.

A torpedo had hit the ship.

In the darkness, children and adults scrambled on the ship's deck to board the lifeboats, but the stormy weather made lowering of the lifeboats difficult.

As each one landed in the water, it flooded. Many children were swept out of the lifeboats and drowned. Those who managed to remain inside sat in waist-deep in icy cold water waiting to be rescued.

Hours ticked by before Royal Navy ships arrived. By then, many of the children had died from the cold.


As with her previous nonfiction book, Island of Hope and Sorrow: The Story of Grosse Ile, Renaud captures the human side of immigration, this time from 1928 to 1971. She has the gift of succinctly capturing events with poignant and evocative language.

     Using the same format as in the first book, she has once again produced a tour de force. It is chock-a-block full of historical facts, tidbits of social history, background information of actual immigrants, along with a liberal sprinkling of photos, drawings, replicas of artifacts, and attention-grabbing newspaper headlines and subheadings. Because of the time period covered, the majority of the photographs are black and white but of good quality. Interest is added through pale blue or beige page colours, the reproduction of paintings, and the golden sidebars and Historical Notes in the shape of shipping tags on every page.

     A number of pages are devoted to World War II under such headings as Guest Children, War Brides, and the Aftermath of War. Such other headings as A Mighty Blast are sure to entice children to read on. The above-mentioned History Notes and sidebars explain additional information. For example, on the page accompanying the above excerpt, information on the number of British children evacuated to Canada and that the CBC arranged for these children to send messages to their parents is detailed. In addition, photographs and brief accounts of two of actual children, whose experiences are typical of those mentioned in the main text, are highlighted. Terms used in the main text are linked to these sidebars via icons such as a suitcase and an immigration official's hat. Newspaper headlines about the sinking, pictures of the ship and a teddy bear now in the Pier 21 exhibit, as well as a typical kit carried by a guest child, are featured.

     It is important that authors portray a balanced accounting of history. Not only does Renaud detail the welcome and assistance immigrants received, she does not shy away from pointing out Canada's failings to react humanely to Jewish refugees aboard the liner St. Louis in 1939. Although most of the 900 Jewish refugees had the correct immigration papers, both Canada and the United States refused them entry. Many who returned to European countries that were later defeated by the Nazis were sent to concentration camps where they died. Later Renaud writes:

Perhaps ashamed for having done so little before and during World War II, Canada now opened its doors to Jewish refugees, .... Between 1947 and 1949, a total of 1,123 orphans who survived the Holocaust found new homes in Canada.

     The text is further enhanced by the inclusion of a map depicting Halifax Harbour, a Time Line from 1869 to 1999, and attractive endpapers. The front paper shows a black and white photograph of a ship, circa 1951, berthing, while the back paper is a coloured photograph of the front of the Pier 21 building. In addition, the cover features a collage of pictures and print documents that will draw readers in.

     Once again, Renaud has produced a highly readable and interesting book that is a feast for the eye and an excellent historical account that will enhance and support the social studies curriculum. In addition, because of its format and writing style, the title is an excellent option for browsing. With so many children, who are either immigrants or children of immigrants, teachers will welcome the book as a valuable resource that will give Canadian children a point of reference about immigration and Canada's role during an important period of world history.

Highly Recommended.

Marilynne V. Black is a former BC elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005. She is now working as an independent children's literature consultant with a web site at www.heartofthestory.ca.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.