The Road Explorer - Fall 2017 - 31
of Immigration at
by Mary Lou Jay
visit to the newly expanded
Canadian Museum of
Immigration at Pier 21 in
Halifax, Nova Scotia, can be an
emotional and inspirational experience
for travellers. The museum building
was originally an immigration shed,
the first stop for more than one million
people who came to live in Canada
between 1928 and 1971. A small private
museum that focused on the history of
the building opened in 1999, but in 2010
Pier 21 became a federal museum with
increased funding and a new mandate.
"We now cover all of the story of
immigration to Canada," said Kristine
Kovacevic, the museum's interpretation
and visitor experience manager.
"Our goal is to enhance the public
understanding of the experiences of
the immigrants as they arrived in
Canada, to talk about the vital role
of immigration in the building of
Canada and about their contributions
to Canada's culture, economy and
way of life. It's also given us the
opportunity to get a little deeper into
some of today's ongoing issues, such as
After a six-month closure for
renovation, the museum reopened in
2015 with more space and more exhibits.
One permanent exhibit focuses on the
story of Pier 21. "A lot of folks come
to this museum because they want to
learn about Pier 21 specifically, so we're
making sure that we still honour that
story," said Kovacevic.
The second permanent exhibit covers
all other aspects of immigration, starting
with the first European settlers in 1604.
It also features the perspectives of the
indigenous peoples who were there
when the first immigrants arrived. "We
are very careful to make sure that we
include that voice," Kovacevic added.
Visitors can watch a mini-documentary
film, In Canada, which features
immigrants from the Pier 21 era and from
more recent times talking about their
arrival in the country.
Making History Personal
The Canadian Museum of
Immigration at Pier 21 is home to the
Scotiabank Family History Centre,
a free reference service that helps
visitors trace their own family history.
Visitors can scan immigration records
from 1925 to 1935 on microfilm,
and the Centre's staff can access
several other sources in Canada
and the U.S. going back to 1865.
"Anyone who thinks they have
a connection - even if they are not
sure - can go in and give the researchers
some family names; they can find some
really neat things," said Kovacevic.
While 80 percent of the museum's
visitors are from Canada, the European
and U.S. cruise ships that dock at
Pier 21 bring in many visitors as well.
"We have also started to slowly break
into the Chinese tourism market," said
Kovacevic. "We have hired a Mandarin
speaking interpreter who gives special
tours focused on Chinese immigration
to Canada, and we have our film
translated into Mandarin." Several
members of the museum staff speak
other languages, including Arabic and
Italian, so someone who is interested in
tours in those languages can call ahead
to see if the museum can assist them.
Pier 21 offers a variety of unique
educational programs for groups and
students. One popular exercise is an
immigration simulation where students
take on the roles of people coming
into Canada from different countries
to learn about how the different
nationalities were treated. "It creates
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