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Until the late 1960s, Chile remained a prosperous and stable Latin American country. Chile attracted immigration from neighbouring countries, Europe, and to lesser extent, Arab states. In the free elections of 1970, Salvador Allende, who led the Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) coalition – a left-wing political alliance comprised of social democrats, socialists, radicals, populists, and communists – came to power. The United States government and its allies viewed Allende’s victory as a threat to Cold War democratic values and American hegemony in Latin America. The Allende government’s implementation of wide-ranging socioeconomic reforms including the nationalization of many foreign companies (mainly American) heightened the concerns of Western officials. Tensions further increased when Chilean authorities attacked the holdings of large landowners in order to correct the unequal distribution of income and concentration of economic resources throughout the country. Some Chileans believed that these early steps would lead the country towards communism.

Halifax harbour is large, deep, and ice-free. It is a natural transportation hub, with river access to inland Nova Scotia, and proximity to efficient shipping routes from Europe to North America. However, before 1876, there was no inland rail link, and so the port was not particularly useful for passenger or cargo service to the rest of Canada.[1] Other ports, notably along the St. Lawrence and in the Great Lakes, had immigration facilities dating back to the 1820s, and were critical to ocean transportation to Canada before the Halifax rail line was complete.[2]

However, in the fifty-year gap between the completion of the railway and the opening of Pier 21 in 1928, many people who arrived by sea in Halifax –with some exceptions—arrived by way of Pier 2 in Halifax’s North End. Over time, there were several quite different arrangements for immigrant reception at Pier 2, from simple adaptations at a cargo pier to spacious and purpose-built quarters.

The origins of Canada’s refugee determination system can be traced back to 1922, when the League of Nations (a predecessor to the United Nations (UN)) established the Nansen Passport which provided refugees with an internationally recognized travel document. The passport served as a travel certificate establishing a refugee’s identity. Recognized by more than 50 countries and initially destined for use by over 1.5 million individuals displaced by the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Canadian officials hesitated to legitimize the travel certificate out of a fear that it was a “one-way document.” This was the case for a movement of orphans who had survived the Armenian Genocide and sought permanent resettlement in Canada. They were later resettled through an exemption to an order-in-council that had further restricted “Asiatic” immigration to Canada.[1] Despite international attempts to provide refugees and stateless persons with recognized travel documentation, the Canadian government maintained its sovereign right to deport persons belonging to any of the “prohibited classes” defined in the 1910 Immigration Act.