Tsawwassen playwright Allen Desnoyers is hitting the road again next week with his historical musical Pier 21 in a place where the story began.
It was at Pier 21 in Halifax that immigrants and refugees fleeing Europe in 1939 arrived in Canada. It’s also where half a million soldiers departed from to fight in the Second World War and where war brides and a new generation of immigrants arrived to take their first steps on Canadian soil.
After playing more than 100 shows in B.C. and Alberta since the production opened in late January under Desnoyers’ Canadiana Musical Theatre Company banner, it only seemed fitting it would move on to Halifax to complete the story’s journey.
“Before Halifax we are in Ottawa for a (Department of) Foreign Affairs conference on immigration, so it was a good fit for them, but I didn’t pitch it to them, they found out about the show and asked me to come,” he said.
Desnoyers said it took him about a year and a half to write.
“I have always found stories that I write from Canada’s history that lend itself to musical treatment,” he said. “This is the 10th or 12th musical that I have written and I was looking for something with Celtic music, so being in the Maritimes, this is the perfect place and style for a musical like this. Then I was interested in a story about immigration, so all of this really inspired me to write this show.”
Pier 21has played to thousands of students in schools as well as a few public shows. The Canadiana Musical Theatre Company is dedicated to creating productions geared to younger student audiences to help them be immersed in musical and historical aspects of Canada.
The overall reception has been very positive, he said, as Pier 21 explores a historical topic that continues to be timely today.
“It seems like it is hitting a real nerve. It is a timely subject certainly with the situation going on in the United States the past few years and the hostility towards people who are immigrants, so to see a show that is showing what it is like for people leaving a war-torn environment has been what one principal at a school described as a ‘lesson in compassion,’” he said. “I thought that’s a beautiful thing to say. In terms of the music and entertainment of the show, that has been greatly received.
“We have found that people have been profoundly moved. When you start exploring the level of suffering that some people have gone through in the world it is hard to not get caught up in those kinds of stories and you start to recognize the sheer humanity you have with people even if they come from a different country.”