CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 38 . . . . June 5, 2015
Today's travelers will have had the experience of waiting in endless, slow-moving lines to enter another country or to re-enter their own. But just imagine the added angst of the possibility that you would not be allowed to enter, that you may be separated from your family members. Imagine hearing orders issued in an unfamiliar language and then being expected to comply. Imagine not knowing if you will find work, shelter or even food. Immigrants to the new country of Canada were welcomed at Pier 21 in Halifax between the years 1928-1971. This book strives to supply the reader with a small taste of what those people, some of whom were our ancestors, went through in order to find peace, work, safety and hope.
Readers learning about Canadian immigration and both World Wars will be impressed with the excellent research that went into the production of this chronicle. The timeline simplifies the events, and the lexicon explains the terms of the era. Splashed throughout the book are "History Notes" which offer further details on the featured topics. Canadian history comes alive with the personal stories of immigrants, home children, military troops, guest children and war brides. The combination of drawings and black and white photos, newspaper headlines, and artifacts like passenger lists and war medals directs the reader towards a deeper appreciation of that era of hope.
Originally Pier 2 in Halifax was used for all entry of new settlers. However, after the devastating harbour explosion on December 6, 1917, all entry was switched to Pier 21. New arrivals were dispatched through medical checks, immigration and then were housed, often for months in the Annex. Volunteer associations worked tirelessly to make the newcomers comfortable and to help them get established. Between 1929 and 1938, many European immigrants arrived looking for a new start and the promise of land. During World War II, troopships and merchant ships used the Halifax harbor, and many refugees, prisoners of war, war brides and evacuee children arrived. After the war, even more oppressed people came to Canada in search of a better life. With the switch to air travel, Pier 21 became a less important port of entry, and the facilities were officially closed on March 28, 1971. The Museum of Immigration will re-open in May 2015 and promises to be a fascinating attraction to past and future generations.
With the exception of the lackluster cover, the contents of Pier 21 are a must-read for any Canadian history student. If only all accounts of our rich history could be presented in such an excellent, informative arrangement, Canadians would have a greater appreciation for our colourful past.
Sherry Faller is a retired teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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