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Pier 21 honours role immigrants played in Canadian history

Named sixth national museum

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

HALIFAX - Historic Halifax landmark Pier 21 will be the site of Canada’s newest national museum. With its enlarged mandate, it will be dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the contributions of immigrants and new Canadians to Canada’s culture, history and heritage.

“No country in the world has benefited more than Canada from free and open immigration,” noted Prime Minister Stephen Harper in making the announcement. “In every region and across all professions, new Canadians make major contributions to our culture, economy and way of life. It takes a special kind of person to uproot and move to a new country to ensure a better future for your family. Anybody who makes the decision to live, work and build a life in our country represents the very best of what it means to be Canadian.”

Currently a national historic site, Pier 21 served as a primary gateway for immigrants to Canada from 1928 to 1971. It was the point of entry for more than a million new Canadians over that period. It was also the point of departure for 500,000 troops who fought for Canada during the Second World War. As a result, one in five Canadians can now trace a relationship to this historic site.


“The story of Pier 21 is intertwined with the story of Canada,” said the Prime Minister. “Creating a national museum at Pier 21 is a fitting monument to Canada’s values and the role immigrants play in our country’s history.”

The Government of Canada, Pier 21 Society, Pier 21 Foundation and Halifax Port Authority are partnering to support the new national museum at Pier 21. This will be just the sixth national museum in Canada and only the second national museum outside of Canada’s National Capital Region.

Dutch connection

Dutch immigrants in Canada have long ties with the Halifax dock. The first ship to moor at Pier 21, after its opening in 1928, was Holland America’s ocean liner Nieuw Amsterdam. Another memorable arrival occurred 70 years ago next June 11, when Queen Beatrix, as a child of three years of age, arrived with her mother and a sister at Pier 21 as a refugee from Nazi occupation. Most Dutch immigrants were cleared through Pier 21 in the late 1940s and early 1950s, particularly during those months that either Montreal was closed to ship traffic or when New York-bound ships dropped off passengers in Canada, using Halifax instead of Montreal.

Pier 21 was restored and opened as a museum in 1999. Since then, numerous Dutch immigrants have made a visit to the port facility, retracing their family history. Pier 21 received numerous artifacts for its collection from Dutch immigrants.

In 2003, the Dutch embassy was deeply involved with a very well attended Dutch (immigrant) gathering at Pier 21 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its opening.