Halifax celebrates gateway to Canada, Pier 21

As Canadians from coast to coast celebrate the nation's birthday, a special tribute in Halifax commemorated the gateway that most immigrants passed through on their way to a new life in this country.

Hundreds of people gathered in Halifax on Canada Day to celebrate the grand opening of a new memorial, and a living interactive tribute to Pier 21.

"It's only fitting that Pier 21 opens its doors on our nation's birthday" the CBC's Hanna Gartner said at the opening ceremonies.

Gartner and her family were just one of millions of immigrants who first set foot on Canadian soil at Pier 21.

Between 1928 and 1971, 1.5 million people passed through its gates. During World War II, 50,000 war brides and their 22,000 children and over 100,000 refugees passed through Pier 21.

After World War II, millions more followed as Canada opened its doors to those looking for a new home.

"It's a great day for all Canadians to see this monument open", Jean Chretien said speaking via satellite live from Ottawa.

Chretien said the people who entered Canada through Pier 21 "have have joined the Canadian family that is the envy of the world today."

Ruth Goldbloom, President of the Pier 21 Society, said the opening of this historical monument is "payment of our greatest national debt to the millions of Canadians who made this great country what it is today."

As part of the celebrations Pier 21 alumni gathered with their families to tell their stories.

Sara Waxman, wife of Canadian actor Al Waxman, told CBC News about how her father lied to immigration officials by telling them he was a farmer in order to get in to Canada from Poland. "He did it so that his children would have a better future," Waxman said.

Three war brides who arrived at Pier 21 again Thursday thanks to the HMCS Preserver, told Newsworld's Colleen Jones that they were scared and nervous when they arrived in Canada over 50 years ago. But one woman was so seasick on the boat that she was just relieved to see solid ground.