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Pier 21 Canadian Museum

Bridging History with Modern Tech for the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (Halifax, NS) has historically served as the nautical entryway to Canada, overseeing one million immigrants entering the country from 1928 to 1971.

The museum and National Historic Site had been utilizing a Drupal website host general visitor information, donor support, and e-commerce capabilities. An open-source tool, CollectiveAccess, was also being used to enable the museum to catalogue their large collection of Canadian immigration stories.

Pier 21 faced a challenge. Their goal was to make their immigration stories to the public via the website. However, the two versions of Drupal and CollectiveAccess were not compatible.

Pier 21 understood that specialized Drupal development skills were required. They looked for a Drupal partner with the right expertise to make their vision a reality.

The Challenge

Pier 21’s recently launched website had been built using Drupal 7. The new website was important to their branding initiatives helping visitors plan a museum visit, book rooms for events, and shop online.

However, the website's main business objective was to being met. Pier 21's goal was to increase user volume and engagement in order to help grow the rate of government funding.

The museum’s new website was experiencing a moderate uptick in numbers by providing an improved user experience. They now needed to sustain that growth by creating a deeper experience by encouraging longer sessions and repeat site visitors.

To achieve this, Pier 21 wanted to allow web visitors to explore their family immigration histories through the museum’s “Canadian Immigration Stories” collection.

The growing collection had been built using CollectiveAccess, museum industry software used for creating catalogues. Open source developers had stopped supporting cross-functionality between Drupal and CollectiveAccess and the versions were no longer compatible. The museum needed to integrate the platforms in order to give website visitors access to the museum’s developing collection.

Pier21 understood the effort required. They also recognized that the work was beyond the capabilities of their in-house team, so they needed to partner with an agency that had the expertise to solve their complex technical issue.

The Solution

The Portage CyberTech team created a multistep project plan to tackle the issue of bridging access between the museum's website and its stories collection. The work began with an analysis of the technical characteristics of the collections software to determine and create suitable files for exporting.

Since the dates had been entered in a variety of formats, the data was massaged to adjust for discrepancies. An importer was configured to bring the files from CollectiveAccess into the website. Those files were integrated into Drupal and a new content type for site visitors was created, allowing controlled access to the information and separate handling capabilities.

The new tool is not dependent on the version of CollectiveAccess. As new releases of both Drupal and CollectiveAccess are issued, the tool will continue to work without the compatibility problems that hindered the Pier 21 team in the past.

Following the resolution of the project, museum staff received training to empower them to work independently to add new collections data to the website.

The Results

Although the CollectiveAccess platform had been new to Portage CyberTech's technical team, they were able to work collaboratively with the client to learn, analyze and produce a cutting-edge solution to a complex problem.

The resulting exportable CollectiveAccess .xml files can be easily imported into Drupal by museum staff, successfully integrating the collection of immigration stories onto the Pier 21 website accessible to the public.

After completion, the number of repeat website visitors increased significantly, and the solution provided the first step in turning the client's vision into a reality.

The relationship between Portage and the museum continues as the team creates additional functionality and improved user experience for the website, with projects ranging from integrating access to ships’ passenger lists to refining the site search function. 

The successful delivery of this project was carried out by OPIN Digital, acquired by Portage CyberTech in 2021.


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