For immigrants making the transoceanic journey from Europe or Asia to North America, the experience of a new country began when they disembarked. In Canada the federal government built a network of buildings that provided newcomers with shelter, services, and state support. "Immigration sheds" such as Pier 21 in Halifax – where ocean liners would dock and global migrants arrived and were processed – had many counterparts across the country: new arrivals were accommodated or incarcerated at reception halls, quarantine stations, and immigrant detention hospitals.
For the Temporary Accommodation of Settlers reconstructs the experiences of people in these spaces – both immigrants and government agents – to pose a question at the heart of architectural thinking: how is meaning produced in the built environments that we encounter? David Monteyne interprets official governmental intentions and policy goals embodied by the architecture of immigration but foregrounds the unofficial, informal practices of people who negotiated these spaces to satisfy basic needs, ensure the safety of their families, learn about land and job opportunities, and ultimately arrive at their destinations. The extent of this Canadian network, which peaked in the early twentieth century at over sixty different sites, and the range of building types that comprised it are unique among immigrant-receiving nations in this period.
In our era of pandemic quarantine and migrant detention facilities, For the Temporary Accommodation of Settlers offers new ways of seeing and thinking about the historical processes of immigration, challenging readers to consider government architecture and the experience of migrants across global networks.
David Monteyne is associate professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at the University of Calgary.