ANNE CROSSMAN: Pier 21 a treasure trove for history, genealogy enthusiasts | Saltwire – SaltWire Network


Atlantic Canada > Communities

Annapolis Valley Register columnist Anne Crossman is a former journalist and media manager. She now does volunteer work in her community of Centrelea, Annapolis County. – Contributed

As many of us are immigrants to this part of the world, it is interesting to look back and see both where we came from and how we got here.

Over the years, I have done our family tree entries. That tree has gotten a little large (2,777 people) as I included relatives of relatives of relatives, but it has been quite fascinating.

I did the DNA test as well. I know some get a bit twisted about having so much personal information “out there,” but it doesn’t bother me very much. The connections are fun and, in my case, are all over the world.

One of the close to home places for information about me is actually in Halifax, right down there on the waterfront — Pier 21. That’s where I first entered Canada.

My mother went to England to marry my father who had gone over to join the Royal Air Force. I was born in Chester. My father came back to Canada in February 1945. When the war was over, my mother and I came back to Canada in June 1945. We landed in Halifax on board the Scythia. I was able to see the information about that ship at Pier 21.

One of the things that really bothers me about all this is — I have no memory of that grand voyage at all. I don’t remember going on the train from Chester to Liverpool or boarding the Scythia (with 2,000 passengers) or sailing across the ocean or landing in Halifax at Pier 21 or taking the train to Ottawa — nothing, not a scrap or a smidgen.

As I age, I find that my brain’s memory file drawers are pretty full and sometimes things slip down behind the filing cabinet, never to be found again.

If you get a chance, it’s worth going to the Pier 21 website and reading the stories of those who entered Canada in that big building. Some people fled a terrible situation in their home country; some came for economic reasons — a way to get ahead; some already had relatives here; some came as a possible gateway to the United States; and there are those who came because they thought Canada looked like a peaceful, big country with lots of land.

Last year, two of the staff at the Canadian Museum of Immigration published a book about Pier 21. It gives a history of the building itself and then tells the stories of some remarkable people. It’s those tales of families coming in past George’s Island over time that are the most interesting to me. The one I liked best is:

“Customs officer Marguerite Day took one jar of preserved meat from its Italian owner, which dismayed and upset the man. After repeated protests, it came to light that he had packed a fair amount of American currency in a condom inside the jar.”

I must also say that the folks who work there are the best. They are helpful and knowledgeable.

Anne Crossman is a former journalist and media manager. She now does volunteer work in her community of Centrelea, Annapolis County.

Share story: