Pier 21, Haifax’s Ellis Island

Pier 21, Haifax's Ellis Island

I arrived at the beautiful city of Halifax for the travel writer “Joyride” promoting tourism in Nova Scotia. After checking in at the lovely Westin, we were arrived at Pier 21, the Immigration museum which is a bit like our Ellis Island. Before touring the museum and stopping at the various stations where Nova Scotia culinary delights were set out to greet us, I along with other media had received a touching story from one of the writers about how her relative founded the museum. This email set the stage along with another writer saying that her family had come to Canada through Pier 21, for a personal feeling for the evening. Attributing these stories with the location brought the historic building into perspective as more than just a nice place to welcome a bevy of writers to a fair city.

Halifax was settled in 1749. Pier 2 welcomed immigrants that arrived at this deep water port until it was destroyed in the Great Halifax Explosion that occurred on December 6, 1917. The history channel website states, “At 9:05 a.m., in the harbor of Halifax in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, the most devastating manmade explosion in the pre-atomic age occurs when the Mont Blanc, a French munitions ship, explodes 20 minutes after colliding with another vessel.”

The Norwegian vessel Imo left Halifax harbor bound for New York at the same time as the French freighter Mont Blanc. The French ship’s cargo was filled with highly explosive munitions–2,300 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 35 tons of high-octane gasoline, and 10 tons of gun cotton. The explosion was massive, killing over 1,800 people and injuring another 9,000. The history channel article added that the explosion blinded 200 and “…destroyed almost the entire north end of the city of Halifax, including more than 1,600 homes. The resulting shock wave shattered windows 50 miles away, and the sound of the explosion could be heard hundreds of miles away.”

Thus a new Pier was needed and this is where Pier 21 came into play. That evening I learned that over one million immigrants arrived with their hopes and dreams between 1928 and 1971. Arrivals included immigrants to farm the soil and work in the mines, British children and war brides arriving by the dozens. In the early years most arrivals were European and these countries expanded as time went by.

The sound of the bagpipes will echo in my ear for a long while when I remember arriving at the museum. This picture of the immigrants that an artist created tells the story and courage of taking up your family, your belongings and reaching out with hope to a new land. If there was ever a place where the people were kind, the land was pristine and beautiful and the countrymen filled with an industrious spirit, Nova Scotia is it.

For more information about Pier 21, log onto http://www.pier21.ca for details. What a great place to start our voyage, the joy ride had begun!

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