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The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is dedicated to exploring the history of immigration in Canada. Designated as the country’s sixth national museum in 2009, the Museum is located at Pier 21, a National Historic Site in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Museum collection constitutes an invaluable cultural resource to help Canadians learn about and engage with the nation’s immigration history. The oral histories, digital images, written story accounts, archives and artifacts that comprise the collection promote an understanding of the breadth of experiences of immigrants to Canada, and their role in the evolution of the country’s culture, economy and way of life.

As stewards of this collection, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 holds this resource in trust for the benefit of future generations while providing local, national and global publics with ways to access its collections.


Collection Vision and Mission

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 collection is an invaluable cultural resource that tells the history of immigration to Canada from first contact to present day. The Museum holds, cares for and manages this collection in trust for future generations while providing Canadian and international communities with ways to access its rich holdings.

Collection Mandate

The development, management and care of the collection will help the Museum achieve its national mandate. The collection will encompass the stories of people who immigrated to Canada including intangible and tangible materials owned or used either before or after their arrival in Canada. The collection mandate will also include materials relating to all points of entry into the country.

The chronological mandate encompasses the period beginning with first contact between Europeans and Aboriginal peoples up to the present day.



The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 acquires intangible and tangible material in a range of media for its collection. These acquisitions become part of the Museum’s sub-collections to be used for display, research or educational purposes, to directly support the institution’s mission and mandate.

Informing acquisitions is the Collection Development Plan, a three-year plan which provides staff with overarching guidelines for collections activity, as follows:

  • High priorities for acquisition – those areas of the collection that are underrepresented, in terms of story, theme or chronology and in terms of the Museum’s needs as they relate to its mandate;
  • Focus areas – particular stories, events, communities or significant individuals which require further development and scholarship; and
  • Low priorities for acquisition – particular stories or themes within the collection that are adequately represented or overrepresented.

The Museum collects both intangible and tangible material but focuses on building an intangible collection of born digital or digitized resources. The Museum is an institution focused on the collection of oral histories, personal stories and narratives intended to support the establishment of a repository of knowledge on the subject of immigration in Canada. Due to its intangible focus, the Museum limits its acquisition of tangible materials to those that that relate to the Museum’s mandate and that fit the collecting direction as identified in the Collection Development Plan.

Acquisitions can be made using the following methods, further elaborated in the Methods of Acquisitions section below:

  • Fieldwork
  • Curatorial Purchase
  • Donation, Gift or Bequest
  • Commission
  • Exchange or Transfer
  • Found in the collection

The Museum may acquire collections based on the following general criteria:

  • The material is relevant to the Collecting Mandate of the Museum as outlined in this Collection Policy.
  • The item is in keeping with the collecting direction and priorities as articulated in the Collection Scope and approved Collection Development Plan.
  • The material expands upon themes related to immigration history in Canada and contributes to an understanding of the diversity of experiences related to immigration.
  • The material is significant to the history of Pier 21 as a national historic site.
  • The material is of significant historical value.
  • The material is in good and stable condition.
  • The Museum must be able to guarantee provision of the resources required for documentation, care, preservation and storage of the item that meet professional best practices and standards.
  • The material has clear authenticity and provenance and is accompanied by the appropriate documentation. The Museum will only acquire material to which it may hold clear legal title.
  • The collection will contain a limited duplication of materials on a particular theme, time period or subject. Additional objects in these areas will only be acquired if their inclusion extends research and interpretive potential. For tangible collection material, the Museum will only acquire duplicates that are of greater value than those currently held within the collection.

The Museum acquires materials in a variety of media including:

  • Born digital collection resources;
  • Digitized video, film and sound recordings or digitized photographs;
  • Analog film, video and sound recordings;
  • Two-dimensional material including photographs, records, ephemera, documents, letters and other archival material;
  • Three-dimensional material.

The Museum acquires collections through fieldwork, curatorial purchase, donation, commission, gift or bequest, exchange or transfer. Items found in the collection that are not accessioned but which meet the criteria for acquisitions may be considered for accessioning.


The Museum has an active fieldwork program oriented toward the gathering of oral histories and personal stories of immigrants, their descendants, government officials, immigration workers and others directly related to the Canadian immigration experience. Fieldwork collecting will be guided by the Collecting Mandate and the directions identified in the Collection Development Plan. These oral histories and personal stories are accessioned into the Museum’s permanent collection.

Curatorial Purchase

Funding for collection acquisitions can come from annual budget allocations, special allocations for exceptional purchases or public donations and bequests without conditions. Purchases must reflect needs as identified in the Collection Development Plan. Curatorial purchases will proceed according to the Museum’s approved purchasing policy. Prior to any purchase, the Chief Curator or designate will first take reasonable steps to determine whether it or a comparable item can be obtained via gift or bequest.

Donation, Gift or Bequest

The Museum will encourage donations of intangible and tangible materials that it is actively seeking and have specifically targeted for acquisition according to its Collection Development Plan. The Museum will not accept any donations that are conditional on the Museum committing to its display, or that are encumbered by any other conditions imposed by the donor except for those otherwise stated in this policy.

The Museum will not accept unsolicited donations of tangible materials except under extraordinary circumstances at the recommendation of the Collections Committee or if the unsolicited item has already been targeted by the Museum for future acquisition in its Collection Development Plan. In both circumstances acquisition can only occur following approval of the Chief Curator.

As a rule, the Museum will not accept miscellaneous items left at the site by anonymous parties (“offerings”). Offerings that are clearly intended for inclusion within the historical collection and are of exceptional historical value may be recommended for accession. Procedures will be implemented to dispose of unsolicited offerings.

When donations are accepted, each donor will be asked to sign and will receive a copy of a Gift Agreement, the original of which will be retained by the Museum, advising that ownership of the item has been transferred irrevocably to the Museum. Donations will not normally be accepted with “strings attached”. The exception to this condition being oral histories and related materials for which the Museum will respect the Terms and Conditions agreed to at the time of donation. The Museum will also make an exception for the negotiation of copyright permissions.

Exchange or Transfer

Acquisition of objects by exchange or transfer will be limited to materials from other Canadian national museums. Exchanges will be carefully considered so as not to negatively impact the overall strength and interpretive potential of the Museum collection. Approval will be based on the recommendations of the Collection Committee following the approval of the Chief Curator. The Collection Manager will arrange the exchange or transfer of collection material following appropriate and accurate documentation.


Occasionally the Museum may commission a work of art for inclusion in an exhibition or use in a public program. Depending on the nature of the commissioned work and how it may align with the Collection Development Plan, the Collection Committee may recommend it for accession into the Museum’s collection.

Found in the Collection

Objects that emerge during collection management activities that lack documentation of their ownership are termed “found in the collection”. If staff is unable to ascertain ownership within a reasonable period of time, they may put forward a recommendation to the Collection Committee that these objects be formally accessioned into the collection or disposed of.


All acquisitions will be made according to the recommendation of the Collection Committee and subject to the approval of the Chief Curator and the Chief Executive Officer.

Due to the highly personal and time sensitive nature of the collection of Oral History, the Oral Historian, or designate, have permission to move forward with field collection.

Final approval to accept Oral History into the Oral History Sub-Collection will be granted by the Chief Curator and Chief Executive Officer.


The Museum issues tax receipts for donated objects at fair market value, following the legal transfer of ownership of acquired material. Objects will be appraised after the Gift Agreement has been signed by both parties. The Collection Manager may provide an appraisal for gifts with a fair market value of up to $1,000.00 in accordance with the laws of the Province of Nova Scotia and Canada. For gifts with a fair market value of over $1,000.00 appraisals will be conducted by an independent arm’s length appraiser. For any gifts with a fair market value of $5,000.00 and above, appraisals will be conducted by 3 independent arm’s length appraisers.

The Museum will not bear the cost of appraising donations to the collection except under extraordinary circumstances. While the Museum will facilitate the appraisal process for donations valued above $1000.00, any costs related to the appraisal process will be the responsibility of the donor.

The Museum will comply with all provisions of the Cultural Property Act regarding documentation, procedures, appraisals, and issuance of tax receipts when acquiring materials certified under the Act.

The Collection Manager will only conduct appraisals of collection materials for the purpose of issuing tax receipts at the time of donation or for obtaining insurance in accordance to the value benchmarks as listed above. Museum staff cannot provide monetary evaluations for private individuals or organizations.


The maintenance and timely processing of accurate and complete documentation of the all Museum acquisitions is the responsibility of Collection Manager. The Museum will retain all acquisition documentation in perpetuity as part of the
collection record. This documentation includes acquisition approvals, appraisals and other documents pertaining to authentication and legal transfer.




Public access to the Museum’s collection is provided through exhibitions, programs, and virtually as content on the Museum’s website and via the website acting as a portal for the Museum’s collection database, Collective Access. Through these means, the public may use the collection as a source of enjoyment, for educational purposes, and to further scholarly research. The Museum aspires to maximize the collection’s potential for education, enjoyment, scholarly research, and the stimulation of dialogue.

Museum’s sub-collections may be accessed as follows:

Permanent Collection

Primarily used for display or research, the permanent collection can be accessed in the following ways:

  • Intangible Material: via the permanent exhibition, temporary or traveling exhibitions, virtually as content on the Museum’s website and via the website acting as a portal for the Museum’s collection database, Collective Access.

    The Museum will make electronic copies of intangible materials such as oral histories available for a limited time for exhibition, research or educational purposes contingent on the nature of the proposed use and potential contextual sensitivities surrounding use of the material outside of the Museum. The Museum reserves the right to only allow the use of edited material. Copyright is retained by the Museum and borrowing institutions agree to not reproduce loaned intangible material without the expressed written permission of the Museum or for any purpose outside of the Fair Dealing exemptions contained within the Canadian Copyright Act.

  • Two-Dimensional Material: via the permanent exhibition, temporary or traveling exhibitions, virtually (where digitized) as content on the Museum’s website and via the website acting as a portal for the Museum’s collection database, Collective Access, or by appointment as arranged with the Collection Manager or designate.
  • Three-Dimensional Material: via the permanent exhibition, temporary or traveling exhibitions or, for those in storage, by special appointment as arranged with the Collection Manager or designate.

Working Collection

The working collection is accessed through the delivery of public and educational programs facilitated by the Museum either on or off-site. Objects and materials in this collection are available for the public to view and handle during program delivery. Access to and use of the working collection by Museum staff will be facilitated through the Collections Manager or designate.


The Museum will allow photographs to be taken of collection material unless otherwise stated. Photography of collection materials in storage will be facilitated and approved based on the terms outlined in this section of the Policy.

The Collection Manager approves all photographic activity concerning the collection. All photographs approved for non-private use must credit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Photography will not be allowed if it is deemed to cause damage to the collection.


The Museum makes its collection records available virtually via the Museum’s website, which acts as a portal for the Museum’s collection database, Collective Access. Members of the public may browse Collective Access or contact the Collection Manager for more information. While the Museum maintains transparency in regards to its acquisitions, deaccessions and collection information, donor information may be withheld according to the Terms and Conditions at the time of donation and in accordance with the federal Privacy Act.


Access to the collection for commercial purposes is at the discretion of the Chief Curator, depending on the request. Requests to use collection material will be considered on a case by case basis. A fee will be charged for uses of a commercial nature.

The Museum may make reproductions of some images from the collection available for purchase via the Scotiabank Family History Centre. All copyright restrictions will apply regarding reproduction of the images.


Designated staff may access the collection for programming, education or research purposes. The Collection Manager sets appropriate levels of access for staff, based on the staff position, the sub-collection and reason for requiring access. Staff will be trained in proper handling and security of collection material.

Master copies of unedited intangible collections will be maintained at all times. Designated museum staff may copy and edit content of intangible collections as needed in accordance with approved policies, procedures and ethical guidelines followed by the Museum.


The Collection Manager or designate is responsible for the facilitation of access to the collection. Levels of access to collection material will be approved by the Chief Curator as warranted by the nature of the requests. Programs and activities related to the provision of access to the collection will be regularly reported by the Collection Manager.


The Museum’s collection staff will document all occasions on which physical access to the collection is granted. The Museum will maintain all written, photographic and electronic documentation concerning access to the collection, including research requests, written authorization, materials requested, and other relevant forms. Documentation on the kind of research being undertaken on the collection will also be maintained to include the researcher and their organization, the main subject of research, and its expected outcomes, such as scholarly work or other publications.

The Museum will request a copy of any publications resulting from research.



Research into the subject of immigration in Canada is a core function of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. The Museum’s role as a custodian of this unique history positions it to undertake regular research into the various social, cultural and historical perspectives that comprise the immigration experience. Building on the stories and histories embodied within the collection, these in-house research initiatives enrich the collection and ensure that the knowledge the Museum shares with public is credible, scholarly, relevant and reflects the latest knowledge in the field.


The Museum takes seriously its role as a resource for the general public, students, professionals and scholars. The Museum facilitates a number of ways for researchers to gain access to the collection. The following are the ways in which each type of collection material can be accessed:

  • Intangible Material: via the permanent exhibition, temporary or travelling exhibitions, virtually via the Museum’s website, which acts as a portal for the Museum’s collection database, Collective Access, or by appointment as arranged with the Collection Manager or designate.
  • Two-Dimensional Material: via the permanent exhibition, temporary or travelling exhibitions, virtually (where digitized) as content on the Museum’s as detailed above, or by appointment as arranged with the Collection Manager or designate.
  • Three-Dimensional Material: via the permanent exhibition, temporary or travelling exhibitions or, for those in storage, by special appointment as arranged with the Collection Manager or designate.

Collection-based research will be identified as part of the collection development planning process. The Collection Manager and Manager of Research work in collaboration to support the Museum’s collection-based research initiatives.

Access to unedited versions of the Museum’s intangible collections may be requested by researchers. Access to these is granted according to the discretion of the Chief Curator or designate, taking into consideration donor requests and privacy concerns.

Researchers may be granted physical access to tangible materials for research purposes based on procedures as outlined in the Access and Use section of this Policy and in compliance with the Museum’s handling procedures. Access is provided by appointment as arranged with the Collection Manager or designate. Requested collection material will be made available in an appropriate room or space within the Museum, at the appointed time, during which the Collection Manager or designate will be present. Collections material will not be removed from Museum facilities.

A research appointment may be terminated at the supervising staff member’s discretion for any breach of handling procedures or violation of the terms under which access was granted.


The Museum will only consider requests for physical access to collection material not on display, whether for research or commercial purposes, that respect legal and ethical standards. Requests for access to the collection for research purposes will be addressed by the Collection Manager.

Requests for physical access to collection material not on display will be approved and facilitated by the Collection Manager based on levels of access approved by the Chief Curator and as warranted by the nature of the requests.


All research by staff, students, professionals or scholars, conducted via physical access to onsite collection material not on display will be well documented and reported to the Chief Curator.

This documentation must provide an accurate and thorough record of the nature of the research conducted, the persons involved, papers, and publications or other material resulting from the research. These records are to include research requests, collection access authorizations, retrieval and return records, key correspondence, information on researchers and their organizations, an access time log and sign in and out sheet, and other relevant material in written, photographic or electronic form.



The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 respects intellectual property rights as referred to elsewhere in this and other Museum policies. The Museum will ensure proper permissions are in place for use of the collections material it holds. The Museum will hold exclusive copyright to all material it creates.


The Museum will only acquire material of demonstrated authenticity and with clear title to their ownership, with a provenance that must be established and proven at the time of acquisition. Unsolicited donations are not usually accepted by the Museum, but in cases where such donations are considered, the Museum will only accept these if at minimum it assumes appropriate copyright permission to use the material, if not the transfer of full copyright.


The Museum affirms that all copyrights and copyright issues are subject to the provisions of the Copyright Act.

Intangible Collection Material

The Museum will hold clear title and all copyright and reproduction rights to born digital collection material that originate from the Museum’s fieldwork programs by obtaining the proper releases from interviewees, donors or those otherwise featured in such materials as per proper practice in terms of donations and rights. In circumstances where the Museum has collaborated with a partner institution in field collection, copyright will be shared with the partner institution.

For intangible collections offered to or sought after by the Museum but created by others, acquisition will be contingent on the Museum’s ability to obtain copyright permission to enable the Museum to reproduce, post online, or otherwise use the material in an unencumbered manner. The Museum will do its due diligence to ensure that proper permissions were secured in terms of proper releases from interviewees, donors or those otherwise featured in the materials (as applicable) were obtained by the original creators to enable the Museum to use the materials in an unencumbered fashion.

The Museum will take all reasonable efforts to obtain the full consent of the copyright owners prior to use or reproduction.

For materials posted to the website for which copyright is held by others, the Museum will inform users of the website that these materials may not be copied or downloaded without prior permission from the third party.

Tangible Collection Material

For tangible material acquired through purchase, donation, transfer or other means as outlined in the Acquisitions Policy, the Museum will secure and document appropriate permissions or transfer of rights via written agreement with the other party. These permissions will the Museum to reproduce images of the artifact or archival object in published materials, online or through other virtual applications.

There may be instances where the Museum holds “legacy” objects (such as those found in the collection) without known or clear ownership or creator. The Museum will make all reasonable efforts to determine the copyright and reproduction status of these materials. Where status cannot be determined, the Museum will only use material for purposes that are exempt under Fair Dealings as describe in the federal Copyright Act, which grant exemption for personal, non-commercial or educational use. Violations will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.


The Museum will make its collection material accessible virtually as content on the Museum’s website and via the website acting as a portal for the Museum’s collection database, Collective Access. The Museum prohibits reproduction of its collection material in any way including for publication, commercial use, commercial publication, or for personal gain without its prior written consent.

The Museum will feature its copyright regulations prominently on its website. It will inform users that in alignment with the Fair Dealing section as describe in the federal Copyright Act, they may download, copy or share the material under the condition that the material not be modified, that it retains any associated copyright or other proprietary notices, that it acknowledges the source of the material, and that they must adhere to any other restrictions or terms of use as posted on the website.