Precious Memories For Others
article appearing in Eesti Elu newspaper
Sept. 30, 2016 Nr. 39 & Oct. 7, 2016 Nr. 40
- by Tiiu Roiser
We are all looking to simplify our lives.
For most, that means purging those things that we no longer need.
But what about the things that are soaked in memories?
The things that we are attached to that remind us of our past and
our loved ones? These are the
things that transport us to another time.
Amongst my keepsakes was the Walnut shipís Minute Book.
Both my parents came from
aboard the Walnut. My father
was one the one responsible for keeping the shipís Minutes.
book is a brown, legal-sized bound ledger with lined pages.
I am very sentimental. I
enjoyed flipping through the pages, reading the entries and imagining the
circumstances under which the words on the pages were written.
Entries were made in
, aboard the ship and in
. It gave me a sort of comfort
to run my fingers over the yellowed pages, filled with words written in
the same time, my thoughts often turned to Pier 21 in
. It is to this Pier, like so
many other immigrant ships, that the Walnut arrived and where its
passengers took their first steps to becoming Canadian citizens. Constructed
in 1928, the Pier has gone through many upgrades.
It originally consisted of a large complex of freight piers, grain
elevators, a new train station and a 600-foot, two-story shed.
The shed was built of steel truss-work with brick walls and a
wooden roof. An area of
221,000 square feet was divided into Piers 20, 21 and 22.
It faces a long sea wall.
Pier operated as an ocean liner terminal and immigration shed from 1938 to
1971. In the decade
immediately following the Second World War, Canada received about one and
a quarter million immigrants from Europe, most of whom arrived by sea.
The newcomers consisted of the dependents of returning Canadian
servicemen and people dislocated by the conflict and aftermath in their
homelands. Most of them
arrived by sea, with
serving as the major port of entry.
Left: Front entrance of
Pier 21 facing the city.
The immigration facility on the second floor of the shed at Pier 21,
housed the assembly hall for immigrants and held medical and detention
quarters. Rail tracks
separated the Pier from a brick annex building.
Two walkways connected the shed to the annex, the first leading to
railway station, the second, to which the Walnut passengers were directed,
led to the annex building which contained immigration offices, customs, a
railway booking office, the Canadian Red Cross and a restaurant.
Right: Model of original
layout of Piers.
The Pier has changed since the time the Walnut passengers arrived in 1948.
In 1950, a two-story addition was built onto the immigration annex
building to accommodate the heavy traffic of postwar European immigration.
Since the arrival of the last ship in 1971, the Pier has been used
as a training facility for mariners, and as a studio and workshop space
for artists in the 1990ís.
1997 saw Pier 21 designated as a National Historic Site of Canada due to
its significant role in 20th century immigration to
. As cruise ships began to visit the
area, former immigration terminal areas in Sheds 20 and 22 were converted
as cruise ship passenger reception and retail spaces.
deck as Walnut passengers arrived at Pier21 in December 1948.
Right: The appearance
of the deck as it looks in 2016, a significant part of the museum.
New immigrants entered
through these doors. This
hallway marked the end of their transatlantic journey and the beginning of
their new lives in
After entering the Pier, immigrants had to pass through a series of
admission procedures. The
newcomers waited in the assembly hall for interviews with immigration
officers and had to pass through customs.
Some received medical care, while others like the Walnut
passengers, were detained.
replica of assembly hall. Right:
Walkway from shed. In
this hallway, immigrants were questioned by immigration and customs
Pier 21 is the last surviving seaport immigration facility in
. Even since my last visit
some years ago, the area around the Pier has changed dramatically.
There are now many retail shops, cultural organizations and
artistsí studios occupying the remainder of the row of piers.
Cruise ship visitors are greeted by stalls of vendors displaying
Canadian products and tourist merchandise.
visitors read about the Walnutís arrival and decide what they would do.
Would you let the Baltic refugees into
? Asta Piil and Hilja Kuutmaís stories are presented.
compare the smallest of ships, the Walnut, to the largest to arrive in
The Walnut shipís arrival is prominently included in museum displays and
learning activities since it was the tiny ship that changed
ís immigration policies. Its
arrival is part of displays and interactive stories.
decided that the place for the Walnut Minute Book belonged here, amongst
all the other collected data, letters, images and stories.
The Pier 21 museum is used regularly by researchers and aims to
provide complete collections of historical data.
I contacted the museum and offered to donate the Walnut Minute Book
to the museum.
As part of a family vacation, on September 1st, I was due to
by cruise ship. I got up at
4:30 a.m. to watch as our ship pulled into the
harbour. I wanted to see what
my parents would have seen as they made their final landing onto Canadian
sun had not yet arisen and a heavy fog greeted me that morning as I
appeared on the deck. In fact, there was nothing visible at all.
I could hear the clanging of the bell buoys and the eerie sighing
of the whistle buoys that make a sound much like that when you blow over
the top of an empty pop bottle. The
ship itself was sounding its fog signal, beeeeohhhh, warning others of its
arrival. My emotions overtook
me, for I thought about what those Walnut passengers must have been
thinking, entering this same harbour almost sixty-eight years ago.
The scene which greeting Walnut passengers.
The Piers as they are today, a shoppers paradise for cruise ship
Anthem of the Sea and HALís Veendam at the Pier.
I first met with Jennifer Hevenor, the Collection Manager of the Museum.
She was very pleased and excited to receive the Walnut Minute Book
as part of the museum collection. All
materials that are part of the collection are invaluable cultural
resources that help Canadians learn about and engage with the nationís
immigration history. Following the donation, my family and I were treated
to a fascinating private tour of the museum with researcher, Jan Raska.
I left Halifax
that same afternoon, watching as the pier and the outline of the cityscape
slowly disappeared into the distance knowing that the story of the Walnut
and its archives and artifacts are in the capable hands of the museumís
curators. The material will be
protected and cared for by stewards of the collection to further the
museumís mandate to promote an understanding of the breadth of
experiences of immigrants to
, and their role in the evolution of the countryís culture, economy and
way of life. I am satisfied
and happy that the Book now has a proper home.
My precious keepsake and memories can be shared with so many
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