The New World

With another Terrence Malick film about to be distributed (his recent film, The Tree of Life just won the Palm d’Or in Cannes), I am reminded of his 2005 film The New World. It’s not his best work, but the reclusive Malick has a tendency to tap into rare kernels of emotion and insight with stunning visuals like no other filmmaker, and The New World, despite being too long and overly indulgent, does at times capture that heart-stopping and poignant sense of stepping into the unknown—into the new world of the Americas in the story of John Smith and Pocahontas. One must wonder what emotions drove those people from vastly different worlds to overcome massive hurdles. There is a youthfulness to Malick’s vision. He’s recreating that same emotion that every child has when facing the world—for the world will always be new and full of wonder to the young, and that sense of wonder can still shine through in even the most trying times.

 

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The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax. Over one million immigrants passed through here between 1928 and 1971. For many who sought a new life after the devastation of World War II, Pier 21 has become a place to honour and cherish.  http://www.pier21.ca/home/

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My parents arrived on this ship, the Canberra, at Pier 21 in 1952. The emigrated from England, where they had married. My father sought a new life in an open, underpopulated land, free of the never-ending conflicts in Europe. When the Iron Curtain fell in Europe, he was cut off from his relatives in Romania.

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A cruise ship is docked at Pier 21. This is the view of Halifax harbour that over one million immigrants would have seen.

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A model shows the layout of Pier 21 as it existed when operated as an immigration centre. My parents boarded a train shortly after becoming landed immigrants, and travelled to Toronto and then a farm just west of Toronto where they got their start in Canada.

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This display captures the mixed feelings many had about the ship voyage to Halifax from Europe. For those who knew nothing but rations in Europe, getting their first white flour buns was a memory that remained for the rest of their lives.

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This large photograph captures the moments before people were called up to be interviewed and to get the stamp “Landed Immigrant”.

One mural had this quote:

“Landsick after the voyage, tired from the change in climate and depressed by bad news, confused by so many new impressions and without much knowledge of English, we started out on our own.”

Heidi Grundke (from Germany 1951)

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Halifax Harbour has stories of heartbreak that are beyond comprehension. As I learned, this island, Georges Island, just off Pier 21, was the scene of traumatic departures. It was the site where many Acadians were kept as prisoners before being expulsed. A nearby plaque on the boardwalk tells the story:

It was in Halifax on July 28th 1755 that the Nova Scotia Council made the decision to remove every Acadian from the colony. Over the next decade, Georges Island (small island in the harbour) was used a prison for hundreds of Acadians at a time. The first prisoners were the deputies who pleaded the Acadian cause before the Nova Scotia Council in July 1755.

Lieutenant-governor Lawrence described the island as “the place of most security,” so Acadian partisans who took part in the resistance often ended up there. The facilities on the island were inadequate and living conditions were terrible. The last attempted mass deportation came in 1762 when more than 600 prisoners were shipped to Boston. Massachusetts refused to accept them and the ships returned to Halifax.

The Deportation policy ended in 1764, and the government made sure that the Acadians who resettled Nova Scotia did so in scattered communities. In Nova Scotia, a vibrant, new Acadia lives on in communities such as Clare, Argyle, Cheticamp, Isle-Madame, Pomquet.

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