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Pier 21: Gateway of Hope

by Linda Granfield

How many Canadians have ever heard of Halifax’s Pier 21? From 1928 to 1971 a million immigrants from Europe passed through Pier 21, which acted as a kind of bridge between experiences in the homeland and adventures in a new country. Although Pier 21 became a National Historic Site a year ago, it has not enjoyed the recognition of Ellis Island, the famous American entry point beautifully depicted in Journey to Ellis Island.

Linda Granfield, highly respected for In Flanders Fields and other works that bring history to life, has gathered together more than 50 archival photos and accompanied them with text that reveals the most important moments of Pier 21. Immigrants facing oppression, British children evacuated during the Second World War, troops returning home in 1945, and the war brides who followed them are shown in black-and-white pictures; human subjects are often caught in stiff, formal poses, like characters in old photo albums.

Granfield’s book provides a pictorial overview of European immigration to Canada that is light on text and comprehensible to young readers. Occasionally, Granfield uncovers the story behind the history, explaining, for example, how some puzzled immigrants imagined boxes of dried cereal to be packages of filler or food for birds.

This book does not probe into the experiences of individuals, although it does portray Pier 21 as a place of genuine welcome. The main part of Pier 21 is framed by two poems that encourage readers to “listen.” The photos suggest many unspoken stories; they encourage personal exploration into family stories and other discoveries about the immigrant experience.