48. Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax

I think that museum are quite boring to cover when writing about traveling. But there are some of them that really deserve attention.

One such museum is Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax. Canada is a country built by immigrants, this museum is about people, and consequently, about Canada. I was very curious to see what it looks like and what can I learn there.

The museum is located in the same building that received over a million immigrants

Every Canadian is affected by immigration and respect and tribute to immigrants is felt on streets of Halifax, even before entering the museum. Immigration is am important page in Halifax history. The Halifax Harbor boardwalk welcomes tourists with immigrant monument. It says:

The pain of separation he overcame, with faith and hope his heart aflame.


Halifax, Quebec City and Victoria were the main gates to Canada for immigrants. Historically Halifax was receiving a lot of people from Europe at various port facilities, and in 1913, a peak year for immigration in Canada, it became clear that size of ships becomes bigger and a new, large and centralized facility is required to process people efficiently. Its construction was delayed by the First World War and Halifax explosion, but by the end of 1920s the terminal was open.

A model showing what the terminal looked like

Old photographs showing arrival of immigrants on ships. Photo from museum



These are original bags that people used to arrive to Canada by ship

During its first years of operation it has welcomed many immigrants from Europe, but except for years of the Great Depression when it was used for cruise ships. During WWII, the terminal was used to send troops to Europe.

Photograph from the museum

The terminal at Pier 21 was receiving immigrants from 1928 to 1971 and it has been the entry point for over a million people and over 400,000 military personnel during the war. It became known as “Gateway to Canada”.

In 1997 the facility was reopened as museum of immigration. It has a long history and rich exhibits.

A path of immigrant started with a long and exhausting voyage across Atlantic, eight to ten days. Most of them possessed very little and could not afford to travel with comfort. Often people sold everything or even borrowed money to have a chance for better life in the New World.  In the early days the journey could not be called pleasant. But as competition grew among shipping companies, they started to offer better service. In 1930s most of ships remodeled “third class” into “tourist class” where food, services and decor were aimed at budget travelers, but still was better then what they offered before. Most immigrants arriving after the war arrived in “tourist class”. The cabins provided accommodation for up to 10 people, who shared washroom and other facilities.

Photograph of immigrant’s cabin on a ship. It hosed 8-10 people.Photo from museum.
Reconstruction of a cabin on ship
Photograph from museum

A wall with ships that were regularly calling Halifax bringing new immigrants. These ships were part of so-called “immigrant trade”.
This is the original door to the immigration facility. Over a million people passed through it. It was the first thing they have seen after leaving ship’s deck

On arrival, after leaving the deck, newcomers waited for an interview with immigration officer. Then they had a medical examination and customs check. Some immigrants never got past Pier 21 – some were rejected for medical reasons, ethnic origins, etc. Those who successfully made it, boarded trains to many destinations in Canada.

Immigrants were waiting in for their turn a big hall after leaving the ship. Photo from museum.
Photo from museum.
Various stages of immigration formalities. Photo from museum.
These two gentleman arrived to Canada in 1949 as refugees from Baltic countries and were detained awaiting decision. Desperation feels on their faces. I don’t know how did it end up for them, but I hope they made it. Photo from museum.


Many immigrants had a long train journey to their final destination, and many of them brought their own food. However it was, and still is, illegal to bring food to Canada.
After the food was confiscated, immigrants were able to buy some food from local store that looked like this.
The “Dutch box”. It was illegal to take any money out of the Netherlands, so Dutch immigrants tried to buy everything they might need in Canada and shipped in wooden boxes like this.
Most of immigrants had a long train journey.
A model of immigrant train car. People traveled in them for many days. It had stove for cooking and shower.

History records that everyone had different experience, some immigrants were more warmly welcomed, others experienced hostility and hatred. But still many of them successfully settled in a new land, and got what they were immigrating for.

Immigration had some dark pages, like rejecting ships with refugees and deporting. Photo from museum.
Newly arrived immigrants. Photo from museum.
Photo from museum.
Original documents of people who arrived many years ago

This is one of the best museums I have ever visited. The exposition is amazing, very informative and interesting. The guide was a very nice man who is very passionate about his job and sharing his knowledge with visitors.

Museum also exhibits what newly arrived people were doing after arrival and what tools did they bring with them. This one is Ukrainian sickle for harvesting wheat.
Ukrainian immigrants in Canada in 1918. Photo from museum.
Huge screen shows different waves and directions of immigration to Canada.

This museum is very emotional, it is all about people, about their stories of overcoming hardships in pursue of a better life. Immigrant’s path is a very hard one, many of them have little more then hope and dreams of better life for themselves and their children. And in early days it was even harder, often people arrived and settled on a vast uninhabited land in prairies, without roof over their heads and means to survive. I believe that this is something that makes countries of the New World unique and prosperous, they were made by immigrants, people who had very little, but had passion and desire to build a better world, the one they could not have at home.

This museum is about Canada, a country is made by its people. Absolutely must-visit

Useful links:

Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pier_21

Museum website: https://www.pier21.ca/

DISCLAIMER:  Many pictures here, including the one in the title, represent photographs exhibited in museum. I photographed them with my camera and I do not claim any ownership, they are exposed here only to attract people to museum and on non-profit basis.


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