In the 1920s, the Port of Québec’s primary function became grain export. However, the site continued to be a major point of entry for immigrants to Canada. On 28 May 1921, the Toronto Globe published an article entitled “The Human Inflow into Canada.” Special correspondent Frank Yeigh followed the movement of newcomers through the landing experience. Travellers were first medically examined at Grosse Île Quarantine Station before heading for processing through the immigration hall on the Louise Embankment at the port of Québec. On the second floor of the hall, travellers were sorted into sections: first, returning Canadians, British arrivals or those heading to the United States through Canada, and last, all arrivals from foreign lands. Lines for each of the three categories were formed, and travellers passed single-file before medical doctors appointed by the federal Medical Health Department. It was at this point that travellers were medically examined a second time. Once medically cleared, passengers were visited by a trained corps of inspectors who ascertained the validity of travel documentation, how much money each passenger had in their possession, and whether each traveller had replied truthfully to every question posed. Detained individuals were immediately sent to rooms with cages where they were assessed by a three-member Board of Inquiry from whose decision an appeal could be made to Ottawa.

From the eighteenth century onwards, immigration and the “population flottante” profoundly marked the demographic, sociocultural, and economic fibres of Québec. The migrating local populace and incoming European immigrants had a major impact on the development of institutions, trade, and modes of transportation. This report argues that within Québec, one site was shaped by all three aforementioned areas: the port of Québec. In turn, the port later helped to diversify the sociocultural and political composition of the city. By 1850, forty percent of the city’s population was Anglophone with the port of Québec handling two-thirds of all European immigration to British North America.

The manual used by immigration staff in the 1950s stated that medical and physical requirements of the Immigration Act were “[f]or the protection of residents of Canada, and to ensure that persons seeking admission do not become public charges…” This connection between public health and medical controls on immigrants in Canada has deep historical roots in Canada, notably in Halifax, which suffered several cholera outbreaks and scares connected with migration during the nineteenth century. In response to the perceived public health risks, the immigration branch required prospective immigrants to clear medical examinations overseas and at their port of entry. These policies were updated regularly, which led to the medical facilities being the most dynamic structures in historic Pier 21. This also influenced personal experience and practices at Pier 21, for immigrants and staff alike.

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