Pier 21 National Historic Site of Canada

Halifax, Nova Scotia
Front elevation of the Pier 21 National Historic Site of Canada, 1996. © Parks Canada Agency \ Agence Parcs Canada, Ian Doull, 1996.
Pier 21
© Parks Canada Agency \ Agence Parcs Canada, Ian Doull, 1996.
Front elevation of the Pier 21 National Historic Site of Canada, 1996. © Parks Canada Agency \ Agence Parcs Canada, Ian Doull, 1996.General view of Pier 21, showing the scale, linear form and two-storey massing with industrially designed shed attached to more formally finished central office bay, 2010. © Pier 21, Jennyrotten, 2010.Side view of Pier 21, showing its site on a pier in Halifax Harbour behind the railway station, 2009. © Pier 21, Michael Sprague, 2009.
Address : 1055 Marginal Road, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1997-09-22
Dates:
  • 1926 to 1926 (Construction)
  • 1944 to 1944 (Significant)
  • 1928 to 1971 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • World War II  (Event)
  • War Brides  (Event)
Other Name(s):
  • Pier 21  (Designation Name)
  • Halifax Ocean Terminals Passenger Landing Quay  (Other Name)
Research Report Number: 1987-042

Plaque(s)


Existing plaque:  1055 Marginal Road, Halifax, Nova Scotia

This site witnessed the arrival of approximately one million immigrants, who have enriched the cultural mosaic of Canada. Opened in 1928, Pier 21 served as one of Canada's principal reception centres for immigrants until it closed in 1971. It typifies the large, self-contained immigration facilities that the Canadian government had begun to establish at major ports near the turn of the 20th century. The staff at Pier 21 handled large volumes of immigrants rapidly, checking their citizenship and medical condition, and providing quarantine, detention, customs, and social services.

Description of Historic Place

Pier 21 National Historic Site of Canada is part of the immense Ocean Terminals passenger landing quay situated at Piers 20-22 in Halifax Harbour off the city-side street of Terminal Road. It includes the transit shed on Pier 21, which together with the brick Central Bay Office separating Piers 21 and 22, constitutes the centre section of the integrated Ocean Terminals transit building, and serves as the facility’s entrance pavilion. Pier 21 is located on the north edge of the wharves and piers that constitute the public Port of Halifax, just behind the Nova Scotian Hotel and the VIA Rail station to which it is historically linked. Pier 21 is now operated as an immigration museum.

Heritage Value

Pier 21 was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1996 to commemorate: its role as a major ocean port-of-entry immigration facility in the post First World War period, and in particular during the years following the Second World War, the last intact example of a highly specialized building type associated with the theme of immigration (because of its high degree of structural and site integrity), its embodiment of the policies, procedures and attitudes of early 20th-century Canadian immigration processes.

The heritage value of Pier 21 National Historic Site of Canada lies in its association with the mid 20th-century immigration experience and its illustration of the type of building designed to accommodate the processing of immigrants during that time period. Pier 21 was constructed in 1928 to provide new integrated passenger landing quays for the Port of Halifax. Much of it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1944. Its new facilities reflected a new mid-20th century streamlining of the immigration process. From 1945-1960 it witnessed the massive stream of post World War II European immigration to Canada, including the arrival of the war brides, an event of national historical significance commemorated by a plaque at this location. Pier 21 closed its doors in 1971 and since has been rehabilitated by the Pier 21 Society as a museum to immigration.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1996, December 1998, June 2000; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 2004.

Character-Defining Elements

Elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
its site on a pier in Halifax Harbour behind the railway station; its setting as a segment of a larger standard pitched-roof transit shed; the scale, linear form and two-storey massing with industrially designed shed attached to more formally finished central office bay; the shed elevations with their regular rows of multi-pane, metal windows, cladding in industrial materials, and absence of decorative features; the office bay elevations with their brick facing and more formally symmetrical organization of multi-pane windows and central entry on the landward side; surviving original industrial-quality materials of the transit shed and pavilion (brick, concrete, metal); the utilitarian steel frame construction and features of the transit shed (such as massive sliding doors); the integrity of the firewalls separating the transit shed on Piers 20, 21, 22; its surviving original interior organization, notably the open cargo area on the ground floor, and surviving immigration offices and airing galleries above; surviving interior materials, subdivisions, finishes and furnishings dating from the buildings' use as an immigration facility; viewscapes to the former Immigration Annex in front of Pier 21 on Marginal Road; viewscapes to the remaining associated overhead walkway, and to the locations of the two earlier associated walkways, to the train station site, and to the former location of tracks outside the Pier 21 pavilion.