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Pier 21 history intertwined with Dutch ocean line company HAL

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

Holland America Lijn (HAL) which already had earned a leading position among transatlantic shipping companies for taking hundreds of thousands of European immigrants to North America, also made history at Pier 21 when its ship Nieuw Amsterdam became the first one to dock at the new facility in 1928.

The s.s. Nieuw Amsterdam berthed to offload its passengers who likely represented many nationalities. HAL’s Rotterdam departure hall literally saw off hundreds of thousands of landverhuizers of whom by far the largest majority came from the hinterland (particularly Germany, Poland and the Ukraine) on their way to North America.

The historic HAL-facility at the moment exhibits immigrant history although its focus is on Ellis Island, Pier 21’s U.S. counterpart. Through its passenger liners, the Netherlands’ role in settling the New World is vast but often underestimated, particularly as its ships serviced the continental immigrant flow while competing with English shipping lines.

Rotterdam grew into the major embarkation port when Dutch shipping companies merged into HAL. Previously, many independent ship owners took on passengers at such harbours as Hellevoetsluis, Amsterdam, IJmuiden, Franeker and Delfzijl. Many of the independents previously ferried their passengers to England where they then boarded liners for their North American destinations.

Major examples of such early emigrants are Rev. A.C. Van Raalte’s party which in 1846 boarded the Southener at Rotterdam but departed from the Netherlands via Hellevoetsluis for direct passage to the U.S.A. while a 1893 group bound for Canada boarded The Seahorse at Amsterdam which took them to Hull, England where they transferred to the s.s. Numidian for Halifax. The year before, Klaas en Reindert DeVries left Jubbega via Amsterdam where they, along with about 400 passengers from several nationalities, boarded s.s. Didam for a direct connection to Canada.

(See also Albertus C. Van Raalte, Dutch Leader and American Patriot by Jacobson et al; 100 Years Ago - Dutch Immigration to Manitoba in 1893, by J.Th.J. Krijff; and Leaving Home Forever, Dutch Pioneers in the Canadian West by Klaas and Reindert De Vries. All these and more are available at or call 1-800-881-0705).