Pier 21

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Pier 21

Pier 21 was an ocean liner terminal and immigration shed from 1928 to 1971 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The facility is often compared to Ellis Island (1892-1954). [1] The immigration terminal facility is now occupied by the Canadian Museum of Immigration and part of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.


Halifax Harbour, along with Quebec City and Victoria, British Columbia were the major ports of entry for immigration to Canada in the steamship era. Pier 2 in Halifax's North End, also known at the "Deepwater Piers", was built in 1880 to process immigrants arriving on ocean liners. It also served as a major terminal for troopships and hospital ships in World War I. However by 1913, the peak year of immigration in Canada, it was clear that the growing size of ocean liners and increase in immigration would require a larger facility. Plans were made for a new integrated ocean liner and railway facility in the South End of Halifax.[2]


Construction was delayed by World War I and the Halifax Explosion. However by 1928 the Halifax Harbour Commission oversaw the completion of ocean terminals, a large complex of freight piers, grain elevators, a new train station and a 600-foot, two-story shed that would be home to Pier 21. The shed with an area of 221,00 square feet was built of steel truss-work with brick walls and wood roofs was divided into Pier 20, 21 and 22 which faced a long sea wall which could handle the biggest liners in operation. The immigration facility was based at Pier 21. Adjacent to the Pier 21 shed was a one story brick annex building which contained customs, a railway booking office and passenger train sidings for special immigration trains as well as an overhead walkway to the Halifax, Nova Scotia railway station.[3]


New arrivals at Pier 21 in 1952

Pier 21 opened on March 28, 1928 as the Holland America liner SS Nieuw Amsterdam became the first ship to bring immigrants to Canada through the new terminal. Pier 21 would serve as a passenger terminal for trans-Atlantic ocean liners from 1928 until 1971. The Pier was the primary point of entry for over one million immigrants and refugees from Europe and elsewhere, as well as the departure point for 496,000 military personal Canadian troops during World War Two. The facility became known informally as the 'Gateway to Canada.'

A large fire heavily damaged Pier 21 on March 5, 1944 causing the central portion of the facility to be rebuilt in time to handle returning soldiers and war brides in 1945.[4] A large two-story addition was built onto the immigration annex building in 1958 to handle the heavy traffic of postwar European immigration.

The decline in ocean liner travel due to the rise of jet airliner travel during the 1960s caused immigration to shift to airports. With few ships calling at Pier 21, the terminal was used in its final years to handle overflown from airport immigration offices.[5] The last group of immigrants were 100 Cuban refugees from the Gander International Airport who were transferred to Pier 21 in 1970 to be accommodated while their refugee claims were processed.[6] Pier 21 closed its doors in March 1971. The facility was used for storage and cargo handling while the Immigration annex was used by customs officials and the Halifax ports police. Artists rented many of the former immigration halls and offices for studio space.

Today the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 occupies a portion of the former immigration facility. The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design's seaport campus took over Pier 21's former medical, detention and accommodation wing in 2011. The garrison brewing company leased a large portion of the immigration annex building in May 2006.[7]A variety of retail shops as well as artists and architect's studios occupy the remainder of the immigration annex.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ An association it shares with the immigration station at Grosse Isle, Quebec (1832-1932).
  2. ^ Alexa Thompson and Debi van de Wiel, Pier 21: An Illustrated History of Canada's gateway Halifax: Nimbus Publishing (2002), p. 15
  3. ^ Thompson, van de Wiel, p. 31
  4. ^ "Pier 21 is Gutted by 12 hour Fire", An East Coast port, Nova Scotia Archives and Records Managment
  5. ^ Pier 21
  6. ^ Thompson, van de Wiel, p. 120
  7. ^ "Garrison Today", Garrison Brewing Company

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