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Visual History Reviews ~ Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia Halifax's Pier 21 operated as an immigration shed between 1928 and 1971. Before its closure, over one million people had moved through its doors as landed immigrants, refugees, child evacuees, war brides, or displaced persons, and during the Second World War, 494,000 men passed through its gates. The building was reopened in 1999 by the nonprofit Pier 21 Society, to act as a monument to immigration and to emphasize the port's role as Canada's 'front door.' The centre's permanent exhibit attempts to trace the physical and emotional experiences of the people who moved through the building itself. In many ways the result is markedly sentimental and portrays Canada as the 'land ofmilk and honey.' But while Pier 21 is not a critically realized vision of the darker side of immigration, it is an innovative and informative centre that makes excellent use ofspace and technology, image and sound, and offers an extraordinary level ofpublic interaction and contribution. The main gallery takes visitors through a series of exhibits that interpret immigrants' experiences from their departure to their arrival, their immigration interview, their encounter with religious and philanthropic volunteers, to their train ride out ofthe city. In almost every area, visitors are encouraged to take a hands-on approach to the exhibits. A suitcase waits to be properly packed for travel, a gallery attendant acts as an immigration officer, and there is a partially reproduced train car, complete with rumbling floors, flashing scenery, and red leather chairs. Other exhibits make excellent use of photographs, collages, and a wide arrangement of artifacts and travelling paraphernalia, including passports and immigration papers. An exhibit on the ships themselves features a comprehensive photographic listing and computer database on many ofthe vessels that carried passengers to Canada. A substantial part ofthe gallery also has been given over to small recording booths where visitors are invited to leave a video record of their own experiences as migrants. Visual History Reviews 173 Servicemen return to Pier 21in1945 Credit: Allan S. Tanner Collection Sound has been fully integrated into each one ofthese exhibits. The displays murmur with fear and anticipation, the bellow ofa ship's horn, and the conversations and complaints ofimagined arrivals from decades past. The 'listening benches,' reproductions of those provided for new arrivals, are the centre's most innovative sound displays. Small speakers, "fitted beneath the seats, play dramatized conversations in a variety of accents, telling of the boredom, disgust, excitement, and fear experienced by those waiting to meet with immigration officials. On a few occasions there is singing - a folk song in a foreign language, a love song, or a mother crooning to an impatient child. Separated from the rest of the gallery and overlooking Halifax Harbour is the World War Two Deck. Spacious, bright, and almost spartan, the deck contains three audio-visual stations that offer short documentaries about those who left from, or arrived at, Pier 21 during the war. The stark arrangement and silence of this exhibit sharply contrast with the rest of the gallery. In some respects the lack ofvisual display is disappointing , considering how effectively it has been executed throughout the rest ofthe museum and how vital the port was during the war years. Pier 21 handled not only the embarkation oftroops but the reception of POW's, British evacuee children, returning veterans, and VIPS. However, the solemnity conveyed by the quiet and open space is a profound memorial to the centre's wartime role. 174 The Canadian Historical Review Pier 21 Immigration Hall 'listening benches' exhibit Credit Pier 21 Society Another significant achievement ofthe centre, and its most romantic, is the half-hour holographic movie projection entitled Oceans of Hope. The movie is technologically wonderful and visually stunning. In the same way that the voices and sound displays in the central gallery create audio 'ghosts' throughout the space, the actors in the film are fully three dimensional, yet transparent and ephemeral, moving amid a solid set without ever actually being there. Tracing the basic history of the Pier, the movie is an exceptionally sentimental narrative, right from the first appearance of the migrant family so reminiscent of Clifford...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 172-174
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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