________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 21. . . .February 1, 2013


Pier 21: Listen to My Story.

Christine Welldon.
Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2012.
82 pp., trade pbk., 15.95.
ISBN 978-1-55109-909-5.

Subject Headings:
Ports of entry-Nova Scotia-History-20th century-Juvenile literature.
Canada-Emigration and immigration-History-20th century-Juvenile literature.
Immigrants-Canada-History-20th century-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen.

*** /4




Imagine you are at Pier 21 after a long Atlantic crossing to Halifax, Nova Scotia. You leave the ship and enter the large immigration hall on the second floor. You are with hundreds of people who want to enter Canada. They are sitting and waiting to be called, walking about, or standing in groups expressing their hopes and fears to one another in many languages.

      You see people lining up to buy train tickets or exchange money, and the floors are littered with orange peels, cornflakes, and discarded papers. You hear mothers calling to their playful children and loudspeakers giving information. There is a smell of decaying food, brought from the home country, and the sharp smell of prosciutto and dried fish lying on a table with other confiscated foods.

      Pier 21 presents stories from some of the children who passed through Pier 21, a major passenger terminal for trans-Atlantic ships as they arrived in Canada. Covering a wide time span, from the Home Children of the 1890s to the late 1960s, Pier 21 provides a short history of immigration to Canada from Europe.

      Pier 21 is well-organized, with each chapter focussing on a different group of immigrants, such as the Home Children, Estonian Canadians, and Italian Canadians. Each chapter begins with a short background on the particular group of immigrants and why they were coming to Canada at that time. The rest of the chapter features a story about one particular child and includes additional information specific to Pier 21 at the time, as well as information about that particular group of immigrants.

      Each chapter includes a number of pictures. Some of these are pictures of the child and family featured in the chapter while others are more general in nature. The pictures add a lot to the stories and help to put a face on the people who arrived in Canada via Pier 21. In addition, there is an index to help readers find specific information, and a glossary for important terms, which many readers will find useful.

      One omission from Pier 21 is the history of non-European immigrants. The only group discussed is Cuban immigrants, and they are only briefly mentioned in the final chapter. If Pier 21 primarily dealt with European immigrants, this should be mentioned in the introduction of the book, especially as many readers will likely have little knowledge of Canadian immigration patterns or facilities.

      Although Pier 21 covers a long time span, it only provides a brief overview of the history of Pier 21. Readers will be helped in further research by the excellent "Recommended Readings" section which provides a good selection of age-appropriate resources.

      Overall, Pier 21 provides a brief, but interesting, look at the history of one of Canada’s port of entry facilities on the East Coast and an important part of Canadian history, as well as the many people who arrived in Canada through Pier 21.


Daphne Hamilton-Nagorsen is a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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