Marja-Leena Rathje
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postcard from Pier 21


Today I received the above intriguing postcard from a cousin (he lives in Victoria). Here's part of what he wrote:

"Finally found my way back to our Canadian beginnings. This is a great museum. There are artifacts from the Castlebranco, which is the ship we all arrived on in 1951."

He is referring to Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "The last standing immigration shed in Canada reopened as a national historic site in 1999. From 1928 to 1971, Pier 21 served as the principal arrival point for immigrants seeking new freedoms and opportunities in Canada." (from the postcard).

A flood of memories, not all clear and complete, has me recalling our huge journey. I was 5, my little brother only a year old, my cousin 3. I remember bits of the stay in a hotel in Copenhagen before boarding the ship. The stormy November seas. I don't recall Pier 21. The long train trip to Winnipeg is a shadowy memory. So many other memories are actually the stories of our elders.

Looking at the Pier 21 site leaves me overwhelmed thinking about the often frightening experiences of the thousands and thousands of immigrants who made their way to the New World. I admire their courage, my parents, aunts and uncles included, in facing an unknown world without even the language. I admire my mother-in-law for making the journey with three young children, to join her husband who went ahead a year earlier. I often wonder if I'd have that kind of courage in the kind of travel conditions of that era. It also takes courage to say goodbye - I think of my maternal grandmother saying goodbye to almost half her family and never again seeing most of them. A profound, even life-shattering experience for everyone. Yet just another blip in the history of humankind.

Marja-Leena | 08/08/2006 | 2 comments
themes: Canada and BC, History


I've often thought the same thing about my own ancestors. Leaving not only one's country, but frequently one's family behind forever must have
been so heartbreaking. But I sense that these people had an amazing fortitude; and the will to keep looking forward.

Everyone's stories are so very different yet similar, especially often the poverty. Many were forced to leave because of war or persecution. My family had a choice to leave, and I think the dream of North America being a land of milk and honey with streets of gold along with a sense of adventure was the draw for my father who started it. The others were caught up in his dream and joined. Those early years were very hard yet I remember mother packing the annual Christmas parcels full of goodies for families back in the "old country". Life was hard on both sides of the world for a while.