The Friday before my coffee date with Chantal was a busy day for me to say the least. I woke up early and prepared myself for the day. This day I would be heading to Pier 21 to get a guided tour of their newly renovated space. I luckily live right in the downtown core of Halifax so getting there was quite easy. I decided to take my Bicycle. I purchased this beauty on Kijiji from an elderly lady near Dalhousie's Campus. She was offering it at a great deal and I couldn't say no. After a quick 100$ I became the proud owner of this steel blue stallion. I quickly rode my new prized possession, in the near pouring rain, to Pier 21. For those who are unaware what Pier 21 is, It was one of 3 major Seaport Immigration Facilities along with Quebec City, QC and Victoria, B.C. During its time of operation over 1 Million Immigrants seen this as their first step onto Canadian soil.
Upon arriving there I was greeted pleasantly by the front desk staff. Quickly behind them was Stephanie Comeau. Stephanie is the Communications Coordinator over at Pier 21. One of the staff had stopped myself and a few friends I made via Instagram in the building in early May. We spent the day wandering around Halifax and stumbled upon this amazing staircase in the building. If you follow me on Instagram, and you should, you'd know I have fascination with staircases. While we were taking a couple photos she asked me if she could have my contact information. I gave her my website address along with my Instagram handle and from this Stephanie took a peek at both and offered to have a tour setup for me. So this is how I found myself riding in the rain that Friday.
I was graciously allowed to have my camera handy in many areas that is restricted to the public. All they asked was for me to come down there with an open mind and an empty memory card. I came with both. My guide directed me towards The Canadian Immigration Hall, this is where I would be spending the majority of my time at Pier 21. On the right hand side when we first entered there was a projection screen displaying the world map with a touch screen device mounted 5 feet from the wall. Here you could scroll through time and see where a large majority of Immigration was happening throughout the world between 1500's till Present Day. It was interesting to take the time to slowly scroll and see the screen light up in different places on the map. It showed different colonies developing and diminishing. Ending with the rapid increase of popularity with North American immigration.
From here, turning directly behind us, there was a large room anchored with a colourful and informational Timeline of Immigration. This highlighted different key events that had happened throughout the years. We briefly spent some time going over different points, but at this point one of the many interactive games took my attention.
This "game" was something that every person who walked through the doors of Pier 21 had to go through. To break it down simply, you were given a suitcase that was 4 Squares by 6 Squares. You had to fit what you deemed important. There were 3 sizes of items. A 1 x 1 blue square that represented smaller items you'd bring like shorts, notebooks, passport, and any certifications. Next was the 1 x 2 red squares. These represented the midsize items like family photo albums, books, your favourite food from home, and other smaller belongings. Last there were the orange 2 x 2 squares. These were set to represent bigger things like work boots, winter jackets, and shoes. I felt this was a really great way to show the struggle these people had to go through. Can you imagine having to weigh the importance of your possessions? Then play the best game of Tetris anyone has ever seen. This blew me away. Speaking for myself I know I am a visual learner. Things are made easier and definitely more impactful when I see them first hand. In the photo above I have what I thought would be most important to me:
- My Passport/Identification - 1 x 1 Square
- Certification - 1 x 1 Square
- A notebook - 1 x 1 Square
- Shorts - 1 x 1 Square
- Favourite snack - 1 x 2 Square
- A photo album - 1 x 2 Square
- Paper - 1 x 2 Square
- CAMERA - 1 x 2 Square
- A large jacket - 2 x 2 Square
- Running shoes - 2 x 2 Square
- My Laptop - 2 x 2 Square
I had a really hard time with choosing these. The only things that were certain to be coming with me were my Camera, Laptop, and my Passport. Truthfully everything else I had a really hard time choosing. I really applaud Pier 21 for really making you think, I definitely didn't go there with the expectation to have that real of a moment.
After this my guide had to leave me for the rest of the tour, so I would be on my own. Before she went she told me a story about a large ship from the middle east that had been carrying refugees. They had sailed with the hopes of immigrating to Canada, but were eventually turned away. This wasn't the only case of this. There were many cases where ships full of refugees who would wind up on the shores of Canada. The job Canadian Immigration had was to determine if they should allow these "Refugees" to enter the country.
Another interactive station granted you the choice of allowing a boat full of immigrants into the country. You were played a story about immigrants found off the coast of Newfoundland. You were given the facts, a news broadcast of the time, and the laws of immigration during that time period. You were then to determine, after getting all this information, what you would do. Send them all home or welcome them into ours. Again this was another point of Pier 21 that stuck with me. It gave a lot of insight to both sides of the coin. One side you had refugees desperate to start a new life in a new country and on the other you have a government trying to determine if these people were trying to use refugee status to bypass the immigration process. It certainly left an impact on me.
After all the information heavy stations, I flew through the next couple. There were a few other little interactive stations. Some of these talked about travel and methods of immigration, while others gave you another story and more choices like the one I just mentioned. From here I found myself standing in front of this giant glass wall with a stencil of the Canadian Map on it. Here you could take an orange sticker and place the point where either you or your ancestors first arrived in Canada. A large majority of these stickers were unsurprisingly stuck on Nova Scotia. Assumingly saying they came through the very doors of building I was standing in. It was pretty cool. With that being said I added another sticker to Nova Scotia as my ancestors also came through these doors.
I quickly checked over the next section and rushed into a long hallway. This hallway was full of objects that were on display representing moments in immigrants life where they truly felt they belonged to this great country we call Canada. Some of these objects were really extravagant, while others were simple gestures of neighbour bring over a cake. Regardless of the size, these objects all seemed to matter to these members of our country all the same. What that cake lacked in uniqueness it made up for it with significance. That simple gesture was something that made a family feel like they finally belonged. Goes to show how something so small can change someone's life.
Next up was the Canadian Test. A glimpse into what ever immigrant applying for Canadian Citizenship has to go through. The questions ranged in difficulty from stuff as easy as "What oceans surround Canada's Borders?" to tougher ones like "What is the "Head Tax"? I did a relatively good job listening through my tour and also had a pretty good recall for things I was taught in Canadian History in High School. I end up with a passing mark, just by the skin of my teeth. I had gotten a 15, which happens to be the bare minimum for an applicant to get a passing grade.
After this area, there were a couple more hands on places. One where it asked you to share some of your customs and traditions and another where children could colour their very own miniature paper suitcase to hang on one of the walls. Following these places there was a place where you could add your picture and brief description of your heritage to a mosaic displayed by another projection screen.
After I finished, and had left the Canadian Immigration Hall, I almost went straight home. I decided I would take a peek around the rest of the building seeing how they invited me to take photos. I wandered around, mostly appreciating the architecture of the building, till stumbled into this room filled with windows facing the ocean. Nestled tight into the far end of this large rectangular room was a wall filled with large baggage tags. After closer examination they weren't normal baggage tags. Each one had a heart felt note, story, or simple thank you to the staff. All of which surrounded the theme of Immigration. I took my time. I read through many of the baggage tags. I stumbled across a few that really caught my attention, but one stood out more than others. It was simple, clean, and the handwriting was done with such care.
Through the time I spent at Pier 21 I can honestly say I left with a deeper appreciation for immigrants who had, and still continue to have, to make the journey here. I would have to say I have to agree with Betty. I am proud to call myself a Canadian.