Port of Entry: Immigration Stories From Pier 21

Pierre M. Desrosiers

The world is facing many challenges this year. In times like these, we see the threads that hold our social safety net together — solidarity, compassion, sharing — and they give us the strength to overcome adversity. We meet threats with openness, and bolster ourselves with each smile we encounter. The pages of Pier 21: A History are filled with smiles, captured where the stories of many Canadians began — smiles that had often been erased in times of trouble, elsewhere in the world.

A collaboration between the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and the Canadian Museum of History, this richly illustrated edition is the latest in the Mercury Series, published in English and French by the University of Ottawa Press.

Pier 21 is more than the history of an ocean immigration facility. It is the suitcases, family names and stories of almost a million people, who arrived between 1928 and 1971 and helped shape Canada’s population. It is also the story of our military personnel — 400,000 men and women who returned from Europe after the Second World War — and the story of young orphans, Red Cross volunteers, prisoners of war, immigration officers…

“[The] memories of Pier 21 are wide-ranging: the ship’s arrival, the assembly room, the small-baggage check, the confiscated goods, the Canadian food, boarding the train, and the waiting, uncertainty and anticipation. For Canadian soldiers going to war in Europe, and for the families of those who did not come back, Pier 21 hosts a completely different set of memories.” (Pier 21: A History, 2020, p. 2)

Pier 21 is part of Canada’s contemporary history, examined through a multitude of stories by the authors, Steven Schwinghamer and Jan Raska. Both historians at the Canadian Museum of Immigration, they take readers by the hand, bringing to life the journeys of those who left everything behind to discover a new world. Pier 21 may be your story, or the story of someone close to you — see it through new eyes and with a deeper understanding.

Happy reading!

Praise for Pier 21: A History

“Schwinghamer and Raska’s clear-eyed examination of immigration policies, through the lens of a single port of entry, demonstrates the impressive and hard-won gains of our modern immigration system. It also bolsters the fact that Canadians have an honest broker of our nation’s history in their sole surviving ocean immigration shed. For this, and for the nearly one million whom Pier 21 welcomed to our shores, we should all be proud.” Matthew Lombardi, Literary Review of Canada, October 2020

Dr. Pierre M. Desrosiers is the editor of the Mercury Series and Curator of Central Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of History.

For more information, see these videos.

Episode 1: Introducing Pier 21: A History

Episode 2: Arriving in Canada through Pier 21

Episode 3: We Stand on Guard for Thee: Pier 21 and the Second World War.

Episode 4: Safe Haven: Pier 21 Welcomes Displaced Persons and Refugees

Episode 5: Celebrating the Holidays in Detention

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