The Immigration Museum was one of my reasons for visiting Nova Scotia’s capital. The Port of Halifax was an ideal harbour because it was ice-free all year round, so Pier 21 where the museum was situated, became a busy port once WW11 began. British children were evacuated from London’s constant bombing. Some went to the English countryside, but many were shipped to Canada and disembarked wearing a tag around their necks with their identity details. Margaret was one such girl who entered Canada through Pier 21. She spent four years with a family in Winnipeg before she was able to return to her parents in England once the war ended.
From 1942, 48,000 women arrived, mostly from Great Britain, accompanied by 22,000 children. They were wives of Canadian servicemen who were stationed abroad during WW11. After the war, nearly 200,000 people who no longer had a home to return to, had been prisoners of war, or Holocaust survivors, fled Europe and landed in Canada. Most travelled by ship between 1947 and 1952 and arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, before they moved to other parts of Canada.
In the decade following WW11 Canada accepted 1.25 million immigrants from Europe. In most cases, these people travelled by sea and landed at the museum’s present location.
But while Canada opened its arms to Europeans, the government remained prejudice against immigrants from other nations. Canada enforced a rule that potential arrivals must have a continuous journey from their country of origin to Canada. Since no direct service was available from countries such as India, immigration officers could deny entry. In 1914 a ship arrived in Vancouver with nearly four hundred British subjects from the Punjab. Two months passed before the ship was forced to return to India with almost all passengers still on board. The continuous journey policy provided the loophole for the government to deny entry to almost anyone not from Europe.
After touring the museum, I felt a deep sense of loss—not just for the Sikhs whom I’d already read about, but mostly for those children sent without their parents from London. How frightened they must have felt—deserted and lonely on their voyage and worried they might never see their parents again. I still can’t get that movie photo out of my head of all those children with name tags pinned to their chests.