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Topic – Pier 21

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Pier 21

From 1928 to 1971, many ships docked at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was the main harbour for immigrants arriving in Canada. More than one million settlers passed through Pier 21 as they began life in a new country.

immigrant children with Red Cross Port Workers, Pier 21

“Gateway to Canada”

Pier 21 was just one of many terminals in Halifax Harbour. But it became the landing place for ocean liners sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. In those days, most immigrants to Canada came from Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Ukraine, and other European countries. They had to pass through inspection at Pier 21 before they were allowed to enter the country. So the facility became known as the “Gateway to Canada.”

Immigration Examination Hall, Pier 21

Arrival in Canada

When immigrants left their ship at Pier 21, they walked along a gangplank to the dock. They proceeded to a reception area, where they were examined by a doctor. This exam was to make sure no immigrants had any serious diseases or health problems. If they did, they were quarantined and kept in a treatment area, or they were sent back to their home country.

Immigrants then met with immigration officials, who decided whether they could stay in the country. If the newcomers were allowed to remain in Canada, volunteers at Pier 21 helped them find food and a place to stay.

World War II

Pier 20 and Pier 21, 1934

Pier 21 was very busy during World War II. The terminal was the departure point for 496,000 soldiers sailing across the Atlantic to fight the war in Europe. Even the members of the Royal Canadian Air Force sailed across the ocean—all available planes were needed to fight the enemy.

Later in the war, and after it was over, Pier 21 was busy welcoming war brides. These were women from many countries, but mostly from Britain, who met and married Canadian soldiers during the war. They came to Canada to live with their husbands. Many had children with them, who may never have seen their father before.

Pier 21 Today

Pier 21 today

Pier 21 closed its doors in 1971. By then, most immigrants came to Canada by plane, entering the country through its international airports. Very few newcomers arrived through Pier 21.

In 1999, Pier 21 reopened its doors, this time as the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. There, you can find out about the many brave immigrants who arrived at Pier 21. You can hear their stories and see movies about their experiences. 

Today, approximately one in every five Canadians has a direct link to Pier 21, all thanks to their immigrant ancestors who came to Canada seeking a better life. 


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