What Pier 21 Means to You and Me

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c. 1946
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In Halifax, the sun shone as I disembarked from the cargo ship that had carried me on an uncomfortable 10-day voyage across the Atlantic through stormy winter seas. But the sun's warmth didn't penetrate into Pier 21, the barn-like structure where I was processed through customs and immigration. The sombre, forbidding interior made me all the more impatient to get outside again into the cold, clear, sunlit air of that December morning, long ago.

I faced an unknown future, but of one thing I was certain. I never wanted to see Pier 21 again. And I never did. The next time I crossed the Atlantic, it was by plane. Now, more than 50 years later, I'm determined to go back there next Canada Day.

July 1, 1999 will be a special Canada Day for me and for thousands of others: immigrants; refugees from tyranny; men and women of Canada's armed forces who went overseas to war, many to return, some not; children who were evacuated from bombed areas in England; and the war brides of Canadian military men. A million and a half of us came through Pier 21 from 1928 until 1971, by which time so few immigrants were arriving by sea that the building was closed. Even if many are no longer with us, it should be a special day for their children and their children's children.

The long-cherished dream of a group of enthusiastic volunteers who took over the decrepit old building is coming to life in dramatic fashion on the Halifax waterfront. Ruth Goldbloom, chairperson of the Pier 21 Society, emphasizes that Pier 21 will be more than a museum dedicated to those who passed through the building. It will be a monument to all immigrants who have ever come to build Canada– and their children, and their descendants. Pier 21 has been proclaimed a National Historical Site by the federal government. Visiting it will be a sentimental journey for some like me; it will be an inspiring experience for all Canadians; and it will set an example to visitors from other countries by showing how multiculturalism works.

One special feature of the building will be a Wall of Honour which will give you and me the opportunity to proclaim our faith in Canada– regardless of whether or not we came through Pier 21.