Pier 21

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Pier 21, Canada's National Museum of Immigration
Pier 21 2010 1.JPG
Established 1999
Location Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Type Immigration Museum and National Historic Site of Canada


Official name: Pier 21 National Historic Site of Canada
Designated: 1997

Pier 21, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is Canada's national museum of immigration. It operated as an ocean liner terminal and immigration shed from 1928 to 1971. It became an immigration museum in 1999. Pier 21 is Canada's last remaining ocean immigration shed. The facility is often compared to Ellis Island (1892-1954), an association it shares with the immigration station at Grosse Isle, Quebec (1832-1932). It was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1997, and officially became a National Museum of Canada in 2011.


New arrivals at Pier 21 in 1952
Part of the exhibition in 2007

Point of entry[edit]

Located in Halifax's South End in the Halifax Ocean Terminals, Pier 21 was used as a passenger terminal for trans-Atlantic ocean liners from 1928 until 1971. It replaced an earlier immigration facility at Halifax's Pier 2 in the Halifax's North End. Liners docked at a long seawall wharf divided into Piers 20, 21, 22 and 23. The immigration facilities were located at Pier 21, although the term is often used to describe all the Ocean Terminal piers. Pier 21 had a railway booking office and passenger train sidings for special immigration trains as well as an overhead walkway to the Halifax, Nova Scotia railway station. The Pier was the primary point of entry for over one million immigrants and refugees from Europe and elsewhere, as well as the departure point for 496,000 military personal Canadian troops during World War Two. The facility became known informally as the 'Gateway to Canada.' It closed in March 1971, due to a significant drop in immigration traffic as transportation modes switched from ocean-going-ships to jet airliners.[1]

From 1971 until the late 1990s, Pier 21 sat as little-used warehouse space, although the former immigration quarters did provide popular studio and workshop space for artists. The ocean liner pier itself became increasingly used as the Halifax Port Authority's cruise ship dock.


The facility is often compared to Ellis Island, in terms of its importance to mid-20th century immigration to Canada.[2] In 1990, the Pier 21 Society was co-founded by J.P. LeBlanc and Ruth Goldbloom to raise funds and renew the public's interest in the derelict shed, which was the last of its kind in Canada.[3] Goldbloom became the organization's second president in 1993, and the push to turn the property into a National Historic Site and museum proceeded quickly.[4] On September 22, 1997 the site was designated a National Historic Site on the advice the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.[5] In cooperation with the Halifax Port Authority, Pier 21 was re-opened as a museum on Canada Day in 1999, and began its new role to celebrate the 1.5 million immigrants that passed through its doors.[6] On June 25, 2009 Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a Statement of Intentions to designate a National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.[7] Later that year, Pier 21 was chosen to compete in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) "Seven Wonders of Canada" television show, placing out of the top seven places.[8]

National Museum[edit]

In 2009, the Government of Canada, the Pier 21 Society, the Pier 21 Foundation and the Halifax Port Authority agreed to partner in support of a new national museum at Pier 21.[9] As the sixth national museum in Canada—and only the second national museum outside of Canada's National Capital Region—Pier 21 joined Canada's five other national museums officially on February 7, 2011.[10]


Pier 21 currently holds 2,000 stories, 500 oral history interviews, 700 donated books, 300 films and thousands of archival images and scans of immigration and WWII documents. Many of the resources can be found on the website and all can be accessed by contacting Pier 21’s Scotiabank Family History Centre.

The Pier 21 story collection has broadened from those who actually passed through Pier 21’s doors, to include stories about immigration from all points of entry from the early beginnings of Canada (including First Nations) and concentrating on all immigration from 1867 to the present. Pier 21 is collecting family histories that go back to 1867 and is eager to begin collecting stories from those that arrived after 1971. These stories will be among the raw materials used to create future exhibits.

An Oral History Coordinator onsite conducts oral history interviews. These are vital to Pier 21’s collection and its ongoing commitment to preserving and sharing stories of all Canadians.

The image collection includes thousands of scanned newspaper clippings, immigration related documents and ship memorabilia, as well as digital photos donated by individual families and many organizations.

MS St. Louis memorial[edit]

On January 20, 2011, a memorial sculpture, the "Wheel of Conscience", was displayed at Pier 21.[11] It commemorated the German passenger liner MS St. Louis's 1939 voyage from Europe to North America. Over 900 Jewish passengers, fleeing the early stages of the Holocaust, were turned away as refugees from many North American ports. A quarter died in the Holocaust.[12] Designed by Daniel Libeskind with graphic design by David Berman and Trevor Johnston, it was produced by the Canadian Jewish Congress.[13] The memorial is a polished stainless steel wheel.[11] Symbolizing the hateful and racist policies that turned away more than 900 Jewish refugees, the wheel incorporates four gears of descending size named to represent the process that led to the denial of sanctuary - antisemitism, xenophobia, racism, and then hatred. On the back of the memorial is a list of the passengers aboard the MS St. Louis.[14][15] The monument is presently offsite from the Museum. After a display period, sculpture was shipped to its fabricators, Soheil Mosun Limited, in Toronto for repair and refurbishment.[16]

Programs and services[edit]


The Scotiabank Family History Centre houses a large collection of archival information available to the public. Visitors can search for the basic arrival information of anyone arriving through a Canadian port between 1865 and 1935, and the records of individuals coming through Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal or Saint John between 1925 and 1935 can be accessed on microfilm.

Pier 21’s most important project is collecting the personal recollections of immigrants whether they arrived in the busy post-war years or yesterday.


Pier 21's Manulife Education Program offers a fun, active, educational visit in the Windsor Foundation Global Classroom. The various services include French and English tours and workshops for education groups, resources and information for educators and students, family fun days, March Break camps, summer camps, multicultural fairs, and public lectures.

Other services[edit]

Pier 21 also hosts a Café, Museum Gift Shop, and the Ralph and Rose Chiodo Harbourside Gallery. Pier 21 also provides rental facilities, hosting over 200 events each year. The museum's location has attracted conferences and corporate events. US President, George W. Bush gave a speech at Pier 21 during his first official visit to Canada on December 1, 2004.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Late 1940s and Early 1950s". Pier 21: The First 75 years. The National Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-08-30. 
  2. ^ Johnston, Penelope (February 2009). "Canada's Ellis Island". The Beaver: Exploring Canada's History (Winnipeg: Canada's National History Society): 52–53. ISSN 0005-7517. 
  3. ^ Lee, Pat (2012-08-29). "Iconic Nova Scotian Ruth Goldbloom passes away of cancer". The Halifax Chronicle Herald (Halifax, Nova Scotia). Archived from the original on 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  4. ^ Canadian Press. "Ruth Goldbloom, who led efforts to make Pier 21 a national museum, dies". The Gazette (Montreal). Archived from the original on 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  5. ^ Pier 21. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  6. ^ Jones, Colleen (1999-07-01). "Halifax celebrates gateway to Canada, Pier 21". CBC News (Halifax, Nova Scotia). Archived from the original on 2012-08-31. 
  7. ^ News Staff (2009-06-25). "PM announces Halifax's Pier 21 as newest national museum Site was gateway for 1.5 million immigrants". CBC News (Halifax, Nova Scotia). Archived from the original on 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  8. ^ "Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia". The Seven Wonders of Canada. Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2009. Archived from the original on 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  9. ^ "Backgrounder: Canada’s newest national museum at Pier 21". Office of the Prime Minister (Press release). Government of Canada. 2009-06-25. Archived from the original on 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  10. ^ News Staff (2011-02-07). "Halifax's Pier 21 designated national museum". CBC News (Halifax, Nova Scotia). Archived from the original on 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  11. ^ a b Taplin, Jennifer (2009-01-21). "Perpetual memorial of regret". Metro (Halifax). Archived from the original on 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  12. ^ "The Story: The Voyage". Voyage of the St. Louis. Washington, DC: United States Memorial Holocaust Museum. Archived from the original on 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  13. ^ "The Wheel of Conscience Halifax, Canada". New York: Studio Daniel Libeskind. 2011. Archived from the original on 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  14. ^ Jones, Colleen (2011-01-20). "Libeskind memorial to Jews rejected in Halifax unveiled". CBC News (Halifax, Nova Scotia). Archived from the original on 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2012-08-31. 
  15. ^ "List of Passengers". Voyage of the St. Louis. Washington, DC: United States Memorial Holocaust Museum. Archived from the original on 2012-08-30. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  16. ^ "Exhibtions", Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Coordinates: 44°38′16″N 63°33′57″W / 44.63778°N 63.56583°W / 44.63778; -63.56583

Further reading[edit]

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