Thursday 18 August 2016

Pier 21: The London Blitz, the Baltic Ethnic Cleansing & the Hungarian Uprising

Displaced person with her infant arrives in 1948 at Pier 21 courtesy

Halifax's Deepwater Piers was built in 1880 to accommodate Canadian immigrants arriving by ocean liner.  By 1913, when Canadian immigration peeked, authorities realized that they needed a much bigger facility.  However, the First World War in 1914 and the Halifax Explosion in 1917, postponed such an endeavour.

In 1928, Pier 21 opened in Halifax's south end, a two story, 600 foot shed.  Along with the shed were freight piers, grain elevators and a train station.  Adjacent to the shed was an annex which included immigration offices, customs, railway booking office, and a telegraph office, a restaurant and immigration charities offices.

Pier 21 was the entry point for over 1 million immigrants and refugees.  In the early years of the immigration station, many Dutch and English immigrants arrived.  The Second World War slowed down the number of immigrant arrivals but increased the total of refugees.  Two thousand English children, evacuated during the London Blitz, arrived in the early 1940's.  Princess Juliana sailed into port with her family after the Nazis invaded Holland.  Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill passed through Pier 21's doors in 1943 on his way to the Quebec Conference.  In 1945 and 1946, thousands of war brides also arrived at Pier 21, many with their infant children.  In 1948, almost 350 refugees arrived from the Baltic, a result of the Soviet's ethnic cleansing program.  The Hungarian uprising of 1956 brought another flood of refugees to Canada's immigration station.  Finally, in 1970, 100 Cuban refugees passed through Pier 21, the last major group to do so.  The following year, it closed its doors forever.

Canadian stamp commemorating Pier 21, issued in 1999 courtesy

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