A World of Stories Inside

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Prague Spring. Following the resettlement of Hungarian refugees a year or two prior, the Canadian government again opened the doors to welcome Czechoslovakian refugees following the Soviet occupation, which began in August 1968. Veronika Martenova Charles was a teenager that summer, but less than two years later she would have her own chance to defect to Canada.

In May of 1970 Veronika and her rock band travelled to Cuba, stopping to refuel in Gander, Newfoundland. “I developed this longing to see what is out there” she realized, “I decided there, it was not planned, and that if the plane would stop in Gander I just won’t go back.”

The plane did indeed stop in Gander for refuelling. Veronika disembarked and found a door at the airport with a sign that said “Immigration.” Using a limited amount of English gathered from her dictionary, she told the immigration officer her plan. She was not permitted to retrieve her luggage, so Veronika started her new life in Canada with “a cosmetic bag with some shark teeth from the beach, and a comb I think,” and wearing only a sundress. The immigration officer placed her in a motel for the night and transported her to Pier 21 in Halifax the next day.

Today Veronika is a celebrated children’s author and her most recent book The Land Beyond the Wall is an allegory for her journey, and the challenging time spent living in the detention quarters at Pier 21.

Every story is unique, and a visit to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 at the Halifax Seaport, provides an opportunity to learn more about the almost one million immigrants who arrived at this former gateway to Canada.  Visitors can also look into their own family’s arrival story at the Scotiabank Family History Centre where select immigration records, passenger lists and ships database can be accessed.

If you come:

  • The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is open year round.
  • Visit Pier21.ca for current admission prices and hours of operation.
  • Let the Museum know if you are planning a special family reunion or are celebrating an arrival anniversary or consider sharing your story of coming to Canada.
  • The Museum has two permanent exhibits, The Pier 21 Story and The Canadian Immigration Story, which covers over 400 years of immigration history from first contact to present day. Both combine first-person accounts and hands-on activities.
  • Canada has had mixed record in welcoming refugees, reacting generously to some while overlooking others. Our new exhibit Refuge Canada (until November 11, 2018) supported by the Ralph and Rose Chiodo Family Foundation, provides context for understanding Canada’s place in the global refugee crisis and brings to light the challenges faced by refugees in Canada as well as their successes.