12 June 2010

Pier 21

I'm in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the moment, at a conference. It's a lovely city and we've been lucky with the weather: warm and sunny all the time, so far. Here's the view from my hotel room:

Looks a bit industrial, perhaps, but this complex of buildings is highly significant in the history of twentieth-century Canadian immigration. It's known as Pier 21 and is where ships bearing immigrants tied up and discharged their human cargo between 1928 and 1971. The main building is now a museum dedicated to the experiences of those new arrivals in Canada.

As a relatively new arrival myself, my feelings about the exhibits were mixed. In one sense, it was disturbing to think of my recent immigration experience as something that people could learn about in a museum. Although Pier 21 is no longer a point of entry for immigrants and therefore has passed into history, the immigration process has not. To me, it is still a fresh and recent experience and there was something very strange about seeing stories like mine represented in a museum. I felt very unsettled by it.

The oral history aspects of the museum were excellent, although I was less convinced by the audio-visual experience called Oceans of Hope. There was one unintentionally very funny part with a war bride who had the most peculiar English accent I've ever heard. I nearly laughed out loud when she claimed "I've lived in London all my life!". No part of London I've ever visited, I thought...

Overall, the museum was well worth a visit but it did leave me with confused emotions which I'm finding hard to adequately express. Mostly I suppose I felt that the museum didn't address the fact that immigration is an ongoing Canadian fact of life as well as part of the country's history. Will have to think about it some more...


Diana Studer said...

Are you still waiting for your mother/in-law to immigrate? Perhaps that is 'confusing' you.

Amanda said...

That's a good point - the process is still under way for my family. But I don't think I was particularly considering that aspect. It's more that the museum seemed to be presenting the exhibits on immigration to visitors who were assumed to be the descendants of immigrants: as though the process doesn't happen any more. It doesn't happen at Pier 21 any more, but it is still happening.

Just not very quickly, in my mother-in-law's case. :-(

Anonymous said...

I am from Halifax/Dartmouth. Try to get to the farmer's market if you are in town this weekend. It is one of my favorite things to do when visiting home.
Hope you have great fun in Halifax!