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Canada's Front Door Remembered: New Book Reveals the History of Pier 21

Many of us have heard the statistic “nearly one million immigrants landed in Canada at Pier 21.” Now a new book peels back the layers of history to uncover the personal stories of the national historic site where so many Canadians can trace their family roots.

Pier 21: A History, by Steven Schwinghamer and Jan Raska, is unique. According to the Museum’s Manager of Research Monica MacDonald, and co-author Jan Raska, this book is the only full-length history of Pier 21 written by Museum staff or specialists on the history of the site.

A large ship is docked next to a pier lined with brick buildings.

Since 1998, researchers at the Pier 21 Interpretive Centre, which became the national museum we know today, have been conducting interviews, gathering stories and collecting photographs, documents and other objects related to the history of Pier 21. Pier 21: A History builds on that archive. Told as a narrative, but grounded in the rich historical context of the archive, readers are invited inside the timeline of first-person perspectives of the ocean immigration terminal.

Jan Raska says what struck him in his research was the diversity of personal stories that showed how much more there was to the history we thought we knew, “when we examine the first-person testimonies of immigrants, officials, and volunteers, we often see that these accounts contradict established narratives of immigration to Canada,” he says. “These voices provide us with a unique lens with which we can better understand who is considered desirable, and therefore, admissible into Canada.”

Pier 21: A History is for everyone and anyone with an interest in immigration history and the historic Pier. Find your copy at the Museum Gift Shop, or online via University of Ottawa Press:

Pier 21: A History - Videos

A series of 5 videos narrated by co-author Jan Raska, PhD have been created to introduce the book. Each episode covers a different era in the history of Pier 21 as well as a reading from the book.

Episode 1: Introducing Pier 21: A History

Episode 2: Arriving in Canada through Pier 21

Episode 3: We Stand on Guard for Thee: Pier 21 and the Second World War.

Episode 4: Safe Haven: Pier 21 Welcomes Displaced Persons and Refugees.

Episode 5: Celebrating the Holidays in Detention