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Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 reopens in Halifax, Nova Scotia

If you came from another country to live in Canada, do you remember what happened on your first day here? How did you feel? What surprised you?
As the days went by, turning into weeks and then years, how did you adjust to your new life?
When you look back now at the process of moving to Canada, what do you remember most?
The answers to those questions, and more, outline the experiences of millions of immigrants to Canada. Most Canadians – or our ancestors - came from somewhere else and share similar histories.

Whether the stories are happy or sad, they are told at the newly expanded Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, often through the immigrants’ own voices.
Voices like George Klein, who immigrated to Ontario in 1957 from his home in Romania and remembers well his arrival in Canada. “I remember crossing that gangway with nothing more than a suitcase that also contained a couple of bottles of ‘home-brew,’ four bottles of French wine gripped tightly in both arms; and of course, my Visa tightly clenched between my lips,” says Klein. “Nothing delighted me more [than] to see my Visa stamped ‘Sortie, Le Havre, 22 March 1951.’ ”

Each person has unique experiences, and immigrants are of varying races, religions, political beliefs or national origins, says the museum’s CEO Marie Chapman. Some arrived today and others came hundreds of years ago. Some come by boat, some by plane and others by road. Immigrants may flee war, famine, or persecution; or seek new economic and educational opportunities; or come for love or adventure.

Despite such diversity, there are many common experiences when immigrating to a new country, Chapman says. Immigrants have been instrumental in shaping Canada into the nation that it is today, so the individual and collective stories are essential facets of our national history, she says. Sharing them creates greater awareness of newcomers’ contributions to the nation, as well as nation-wide empathy for the immigration experience.

“The stories are not always easy to tell or to hear,” says Chapman. “But they reflect who we are as Canadians. They inspire us, and they teach us. This is our story, and it is your story. You can find your story here.”

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is located at the historic Halifax Seaport and was once a major entry point into Canada. Opened to the public in 1999, the museum originally told the stories of the over 1.2 million people who passed through its gates. The museum underwent substantial renovations in 2015 doubling its original size, making space for more exhibits that tell the larger story of Canada-wide immigration, from hundreds of years ago to the present day. It is the newest of our six national museums and the only one east of the Ottawa region.

Organized around the themes Journey, Arrival, Belonging and Impact, the new exhibits describe first impressions, including details about passing through customs and obtaining documents, finding a place to live and shopping for necessities. The museum also tells the stories of new Canadian adventures, like discovering new foods and new words, learning to dress for the weather, making friends, finding jobs, exploring the country, getting involved in sports or leisure activities, and carving out new lives – lives that touch other people and have an impact on Canadian society. Somewhere during this process, Canada begins to feel like home.

The museum shares the stories through traditional exhibits of photos and artifacts like shipping crates, trunks, luggage, and personal treasures. Innovative digital technology allows visitors to see the waves of immigration since the late 1400s, and hear immigrants’ voices describing personal experiences. Immigrants and their families are represented in the exhibits, and there are opportunities to contribute personal immigration stories to Canada’s history.
Interactive exhibits have museum visitors boarding a rail car west to settle the prairies, smelling spices that reflect diverse ethnic backgrounds, dressing in period costumes, exploring accommodations on a trans-Atlantic ship, and participating in other hands-on exhibits, including some specifically for children. A film, genealogical research, and temporary exhibits help round out the museum’s offerings.
“The museum will continue to evolve as more immigrants come to Canada, and we collect their stories, too,” Chapman said.

The renovated Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 will reopen May 5, 2015.

Canadian Museum of Immigration - info    4/28/2015


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