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Into God's Hands

 A stormy sea -
the water 
looms endless -
cold and frigid;

We leave behind 
those we have loved
things we have known;

All my possessions
in one small suitcase -
are easy to pack;

What fate awaits us?

Together we came
with dread -
yet filled  with hope;

Into God's hands -
we placed our dreams
and our lives;

Deliver us all
from evil
Your kingdom come;

We thank You -
for this second chance
our lives anew.

Tiiu Roiser 
Dec. 2008



Preserving Precious Memories For Others

Two-part 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 Sweden to Canada aboard the Walnut.  My father was one the one responsible for keeping the shipís Minutes. 

The 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 Sweden , aboard the ship and in Canada .  It gave me a sort of comfort to run my fingers over the yellowed pages, filled with words written in blue ink. 

At the same time, my thoughts often turned to Pier 21 in Halifax .  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.  

The 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 Halifax 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 the Halifax 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 Canada . As cruise ships began to visit the Halifax area, former immigration terminal areas in Sheds 20 and 22 were converted as cruise ship passenger reception and retail spaces. 


The 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 Canada through these doors.  This hallway marked the end of their transatlantic journey and the beginning of their new lives in Canada . 

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.


Museum replica of assembly hall.  Right:  Walkway from shed.  In this hallway, immigrants were questioned by immigration and customs officers.

Pier 21 is the last surviving seaport immigration facility in Canada .  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.  


Museum visitors read about the Walnutís arrival and decide what they would do.  Would you let the Baltic refugees into Canada ? Asta Piil and Hilja Kuutmaís stories are presented.   Right:  Models compare the smallest of ships, the Walnut, to the largest to arrive in Halifax .

The Walnut shipís arrival is prominently included in museum displays and learning activities since it was the tiny ship that changed Canada ís immigration policies.  Its arrival is part of displays and interactive stories. 

I 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 arrive in Halifax by cruise ship.  I got up at 4:30 a.m. to watch as our ship pulled into the Halifax harbour.  I wanted to see what my parents would have seen as they made their final landing onto Canadian soil.   

The 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.


 Left:  Approaching Halifax Harbour .  Right:  The scene which greeting Walnut passengers.



Left:  The Piers as they are today, a shoppers paradise for cruise ship visitors.  
Right:  RCLís  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 Canada , 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 others.

Tiiu Roiser     

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This page was last updated 27/12/2018 08:05 PM

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