S.S. Walnut

A Voyage to Freedom - 1948

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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




S.S. Walnut Voyage - Arrival at Pier 21


Kevin Chorowiec, grandson of a Walnut passenger visits Pier 21.

Pier 21 was a passenger terminal in the port of Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada.  It was used to receive immigrants during the years 1928 to 1971.  In fact, over 1.5 million immigrants and Canadian military personnel passed through its doors.   It was transformed into a National Historic Site and Immigration Museum in 1999 and has just become Canada's newest national museum.

The Prime Minister announced the following on June 25th, 2009:

PM announces Canada’s newest national museum at Pier 21

Pier 21 to serve as monument to the role immigrants have played in Canadian history


Historic Halifax landmark Pier 21 will be the site of Canada’s newest national museum, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today.  The new national museum will be dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the contributions of immigrants and new Canadians to Canada’s culture, history and heritage.

“No country in the world has benefited more than Canada from free and open immigration,” said the Prime Minister.  “In every region and across all professions, new Canadians make major contributions to our culture, economy and way of life.  It takes a special kind of person to uproot and move to a new country to ensure a better future for your family.  Anybody who makes the decision to live, work and build a life in our country represents the very best of what it means to be Canadian.”

Currently a national historic site, Pier 21 served as a primary gateway for immigrants to Canada from 1928 to 1971.  It was the point of entry for more than a million new Canadians over that period.  It was also the point of departure for 500,000 troops who fought for Canada during the Second World War.  As a result, one in five Canadians can now trace a relationship to this historic site.

“The story of Pier 21 is intertwined with the story of Canada,” said the Prime Minister.  “Creating a national museum at Pier 21 is a fitting monument to Canada’s values and the role immigrants play in our country’s history.”

The Government of Canada, Pier 21 Society, Pier 21 Foundation and Halifax Port Authority are partnering to support the new national museum at Pier 21.  This will be just the sixth national museum in Canada and only the second national museum outside of Canada’s National Capital Region.

June 25, 2009
Halifax, Nova ScotiaSource:  
Office of the Prime Minister


June 25, 2009:  Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces that Historic Halifax landmark Pier 22 
will be the site of Canada's newest national museum.
Video Vault



Prime Minister Stephen Harper concluded is June 25th, 2009 announcement by paying homage to this special place with the words of the late J.P. Leblanc from his "Ode to Pier 21".  He quoted:  

"Silent, I am the platform that processed kings, queens, princes and paupers, intrepid pioneers, detainees, inadmissibles, lost souls, the penniless, the threadbare, refugees from tyranny, oppression and revolutions, and displaced peoples.  Each sought land, hope, harmony, liberty;  I greeted them all."

Source:  Office of the Prime Minister

PM Harper's Full Speech - June 25th, 2009.

Known as the “Gateway to Canada”, the Pier 21 Museum commemorates the Canadian immigration experience by sharing the stories of a multitude of immigrants arriving at Canada’s doorstep.  Through Pier 21, a visitor has access to over 2,000 immigration stories, 500 oral history interviews, 700 donated books, 300 files and thousands of archived images and document

Passengers of the S.S. Walnut stepped through these doors now known as the “Gateway to Canada” on December 13th, 1948.  A large banner read "Welcome to Canada."

Be sure to visit the Walnut display at the museum and watch the accompanying video - some passengers may recognize themselves.   

Jaan (John) Soosaar read an article in the English-language supplement of the Estonian weekly "Eesti Elu" entitled "Pier 21 and the Little Estonian Ship of Freedom" (see full article below) and explains in a 2004 web posting how the Walnut display was conceived:


Front entrance to Pier 21 museum - facing towards land.

Pier 21 as it looks today facing land.  
Passengers would have seen 
the other side of the building.


Walnut passengers at Pier 21 on December 13th, 1948.

Walnut passengers at the Pier on 
December 13th, 1948.


"The article on the Walnut is interesting and I can shed some light on how the display was conceived.  I was working as a producer for CBC Newsworld when a friend got the contract to prepare a documentary on Pier 21.   In her research she discovered the story of the Walnut and an Estonian man who sailed to Canada aboard the ship.  He kept a detailed diary of his voyage.   My friend got the book and I translated sections of it.   The decision was made to do a separate display on the Walnut and I read the translation and did the English language commentary.   It's a popular display and I've had many positive comments on it.   My family came to Canada in 1949, but through Quebec City instead of Halifax although we settled in Nova Scotia.   Pier 21 remains a popular attraction on the Halifax waterfront,  particularly for the thousands who came through the terminal in the years after the war."   

August 16, 2004 - Jaan Soosaar

Read comment at original source HERE.

Soosaar's comments are in response to an article entitled Pier 21 and the Little Estonian Ship of Freedom which appeared in the Estonian community newspaper Eesti Elu  on June 25th, 2004.  

Walnut display at Pier 21.

The Walnut ship and journey has a special 
display at the Pier 21 Museum.


Visit Pier 21!

In addition to being able to enjoy the historic museum, visitors can enjoy the Café, Gift Shop, and the Ralph and Rose Chiodo Harbourside Gallery.

Please also note, Pier 21 has photographs in a section entitled are you in this picture for photographs for which there are no captions.

Pier 21 also encompasses the Scotiabank Research Centre which includes information concerning migration, nautical history, waves of immigration, various ethnic groups and genealogy.  The research centre collects books, WWII stories, photographs, documents and ship memorabilia.  It currently has over 2000 stories, 600 oral histories, 1000 donated books, 300 films and thousands of images and scans of WWII documents. 

The research team offers reference services to visitors via e-mail, telephone or post.  If anyone has material to donate, please contact Carrie-Ann Smith, Manager of Research (Tel: 425-0071 ext 225).

We sincerely thank both the Pier 21 Museum
and Ms. Carrie-Ann Smith
for their kind support of this website!


The following is a translation of an article which describes one man's arrival at Pier 21.  Although the memories are those of A. Kalbus, the author of the article itself is not mentioned.  Found amongst one passenger's newspaper clippings, the date and source are not visible.  It can be assume that it appeared in print somewhere outside of Canada shortly after Dec. 1948.  


The following English version of the original newspaper article is not a word-for-word exact translation  of the Estonian text, 
but rather a very close English duplication of the author's writing.   [ ] brackets indicate translator's comments.   
Translated by Tiiu Roiser-Chorowiec. 

"The Walnut in Halifax"

Source, author and date unknown.  Other than original newspaper photograph below, 
the other images have been added by the webmaster.

Walnut passengers eating onboard in dining area.

The Walnut passengers aboard the ship in the dining area.

The refugee ship Walnut, the fate of which we last knew arriving in Sidney harbor, has now moved on to Halifax, where the refugees have been moved to an immigration camp.  Travel organizer A. Kalbus has written us about his first impressions, space for which we here provide:  

"We are in Halifax, Canada's largest port city.  We have slept our first night in camp [meaning refugee camp] beds.  When asked by other passengers how did you sleep, almost everyone answered -- badly.  We are missing what we had gotten accustomed to--the rocking, the murmur of the wind, the noise of the water.  Perhaps we should take turns to rock the beds and throw water against the walls, then we could sleep again! 

Left:  Traveling from Sydney to Halifax. 

Traveling from Sydney to Halifax.We stopped at the Sydney pier for two days since there were gale force winds of 9 on the Atlantic.  This raged itself out and the wind turned toward the land.  We picked a route partially through islands, moving through long Canada forests.  The land is hilly, the occasional small farms on the shore, very similar to the terrain of Sweden.   Although we departed during a quiet time, the Atlantic once again showed its stormy mood, forcing almost all passengers to bed.    As we neared Halifax, a plane patrolled overhead, a war ship approached us.  A pilot boat came and took us to an enormous immigration house.  In the center of the building was written in large letters "Welcome Home to Canada".  Does this apply to us as well, arriving without permission and homeless refugees?  

They knew of our arrival.  Already from Sydney they had phoned Ottawa, and that's where the order to go to Halifax came.  We know of this, since we received a bill for the phone call.   Also we paid for the overtime of the immigration official while he was onboard the ship.  We are responsible for our the cost of bringing our luggage to the camp.  This is no longer the generous Sweden who gives and assists.  This should be taken into consideration.

Manfred Kalm and Manivald Sein in Halifax.We are on the covers of newspapers with large pictures, interest in our future is warm and kind.  One hour after arriving in the harbour, we were told to leave the ship.   We filled immigration papers, women and children were given sweets, every man got a pack of cigarettes and tobacco--and onto the bus.

Right:  Manfred Kalm and Manivald Sein at the DP Camp.

The passengers were split into two.  Families with children and those without in another building.  The latter in large and open former veteran hospital rooms.  Most of the rooms have one to four beds, often with their own washroom and toilet.  There is a guard at the door and exiting is not permitted.  We hear that more freedoms will be granted after a doctor's examination and political screening has been completed. 



Refugee camp cook in Halifax.

Lunch is served.

Enjoying lunch at refugee camp.

Alexander Kalbus describes the meals at the refugee camp as "phenomenal".
Left:  Refugee camp cook.

The food is phenomenal.  The first evening we had bullion, a roast with vegetables, pudding and coffee.  Of course, on the table was also butter and bread.  It is important to note the latter, which in Canada is very white.  The wheat from this country is considered to be one of the best world-wide.  Perhaps it tastes so good because I remember the stale bread onboard the ship.  For breakfast there were two eggs, corn flakes with milk and ice, or bread and coffee.  Lunch was also abundant.  Undoubtedly, this was very good for the passengers, since the seasickness had caused many men to loose their bellies and many women to undergo unwanted diets.


Walnut passengers at Rockhead hospital.

Rockhead Hospital

Walnut passengers in Halifax.
Walnut passengers in Halifax

Celebrating their first Christmas in Canada.

First Christmas in Canada.


We must to go work committees.  A choir, a musicians group and a dance group have begun activities.  It it understandable that language courses are also beginning.  We will scarcely be freed before two months.  The spirits are generally good and everyone finds that despite life onboard being very cramped, the Walnut was nevertheless a fine ship!"


"Pier 21 and the Little Estonian Ship of Freedom"

Article appearing in Estonian Life, English-language supplement to the 
Estonian weekly "Eesti Elu" -- Friday, June 25, 2004
Copyright © Eesti Elu.  Reprinted with the kind permission of the Eesti Elu newspaper.

Read text at original source HERE

There are many reasons to visit Halifax.  Dominated by a stone fortress that sits high astride a hill, it is a maritime city with a bustling  harbour, elegant seafood restaurants, a rich history, and rugged coastal beauty.

The best reason, however, is on a dock at the south end of the downtown waterfront in an unassuming large brick warehouse.  Called Pier 21, it is a place that has shaped our country and about 20% of Canadians have a direct link to this place.  Nowhere will you gain a better perspective of the cultural mosaic that is such a vital and vibrant characteristic of Canada.

Today, gigantic cruise ships dock here, and disembark thousands of smiling tourists to the welcoming swirl of kilts and bagpipes.  But from 1928 to 1971 this was the gateway to Canada, where over a million immigrants landed seeking a better life and freedom.

In 1999, Pier 21 was opened as a National Historic Site with award-winning displays recreating the experience of newly landed immigrants.  There are many heart-rending stories and the short film, Oceans of Hope, leaves  hardly a dry eye in the theatre as it shows emotional vignettes of immigrants arriving at Pier 21, and the painful experiences of young Canadian soldiers who went and came from this dock in the thousands during the war.

Pier 21 is particularly poignant for Estonians.  In the years after World War II the Soviet Union, claiming that Estonians and other Balts were Soviet citizens, placed strong pressure on Sweden and Finland to deport them.  When Sweden capitulated and sent 167 refugees back to Russia, many Estonians, my parents included, sought safety in Canada.

As I wandered amongst the displays, I could picture my mother and father here in 1950 all their possessions in a clutch of suitcases, not speaking English, and with me (age five) and my one-year old brother in tow.  An interactive computer display yielded information on the ship, Samaria, on which we sailed in third class.  The resource centre provided more information and application forms to release the details of our arrival from archives.

One display, in particular, captures the desperation and fear at that time.  It tells the story of a small ship, the Walnut, which carried 347 passengers, mostly Estonians, including 70 children, from Gothenburg, Sweden, across a stormy Atlantic to Pier 21.  The Walnut was purchased by the passengers and, probably in fear of Soviet reprisal, was registered in Panama and flew the blue and white Honduran flag.  For safety reasons, Swedish authorities allowed only 298 people aboard.  The remaining 49 people skirted the problem by hiding below decks.

The voyage lasted 26 days, and must have been sheer misery.  The Walnut, a wartime minesweeper, was not designed for passengers and was badly overcrowded with the passengers living in makeshift "mail slots."  As the captain later reported, few passengers ate well or regularly.  And those with food likely did not keep it down long, for the North Atlantic in December is a treacherous place, and two storms blew the tiny Walnut far off course, tossing it about like a matchstick.

The problems did not end when the ship finally reached Halifax on December 13, 1948, for the arrival was illegal and the passengers, none of whom had valid visas, were placed in detention.  But the news media and the local population championed these brave refugees and they were soon allowed entry.  that Christmas season was joyous indeed for these new Canadians, who demonstrated their national talent by forming a choir and singing at the Halifax Lutheran church.  "DPs make merry at New Year," read a headline in the Halifax Mail.

Now those refugees and their children and grandchildren are spread all across Canada, and the Walnut is but a distant memory.

Leaving, I looked back at the big brick warehouse and goose bumps formed on my skin and a small tear welled in the corner of my eye.  After many decades, a window had unexpectedly opened and case a beam of light on my personal past and on my national heritage.  I was pleased that these memories will be preserved and showcased here on this Halifax wharf.

Ants Tammemägi

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