How made-in-Ottawa technology is helping Halifax’s Pier 21 museum connect with Canadians

Pier 21
Editor's Note

This article is sponsored by OPIN Digital

As pandemic restrictions are eased across the country, the Pier 21 museum in Halifax is ready to welcome back guests both in person – and through new digital channels.

After COVID-19 forced The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 to shut its doors, the team quickly began brainstorming ways to safely engage with virtual visitors during the pandemic.

Building on its pre-COVID efforts to create more digital content, the museum placed additional emphasis on its online programming that enabled individuals to engage with museum exhibits from the safety of their homes. 

“We want to reach as many Canadians as possible either through our travelling exhibits or through our digital side,” says Dan Conlin, exhibition curator at Pier 21. “A big focus for us has been sharing oral histories through our website because oftentimes the spoken word catches things the artifacts don’t.”  

The Pier 21 museum explores Canada’s relationship with immigration and its impact on the country and its residents. Sharing both the heartwarming – and at times troubling – stories of the country’s immigration history, the museum aims to spark a national conversation surrounding immigration and the important role it plays in the country’s identity.

While in-person visitors can now once again experience exhibits such as the History of Pier 21 and its role as an entry point to Canada, those exploring the museum online also have access to photos, videos and guided exhibit tours. 

Digital users can explore “Culture Trunks,” which tell the stories of immigration to Canada from specific countries through photos, artifacts and narratives of newcomers to Canada who landed at Pier 21. 

The museum has also undertaken a digital storytelling project, posting short submitted videos of recent immigrants sharing their own experiences, memories and stories. 

“The project offers a safe way for newcomers to reflect on their immigration experience and shape their own story,” says Conlin. “We are able to integrate those videos into our physical exhibits and online to reflect the diversity of immigrants coming to Canada.”

Helping Canadians connect

And now, thanks to some help from Ottawa-based digital agency OPIN Digital, Pier 21 is able to help Canadians piece together their own family history through online records such as ship passenger manifests and other digitized archives. 

OPIN Digital helped reconfigure the museum’s online presence to allow curators to easily upload large amounts of data to the website. The new website has also made it easier for users to navigate through the site and use the museum’s information as an effective research tool.

"Our project with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 was exciting for me as a Greek Canadian because my family immigrated by boat from Greece several decades ago, and for the last several years I have been researching my family history and reconnecting with distant relatives,” says OPIN Digital CEO Chris Smith. “Personally, I have found my genealogy project to be very rewarding and I hope our work with the museum will help others in their own efforts to learn more about their family history.”

Now that pandemic restrictions have eased in Halifax, Conlin says he is eager to start welcoming back visitors to the historical site – but is happy to know that Canadians always have access to these important stories no matter where they are.  

“It’s been an interesting challenge for us to try and reach people this way, but it’s one we are happy to undertake,” he says. “We're always exploring new ways to build relationships and tell Canada’s story better.”