Canadian Museum of Immigration

Countless Journeys.

Tronvig work

Working with leadership and staff, we shifted the focus of the Canadian Museum of Immigration to the cultivation of empathy and along the way we landed a long sought-after tagline.


  • Brand strategy
  • Visitor research
  • Tagline
  • Organizational alignment
  • Brand advertising
  • Core values
Marie Chapman

“We would never have been able to do this if we didn’t go through this process. There’s no question in my mind. It has been really helpful in a big, big way.”

Marie Chapman / CEO, Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21


The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a national museum devoted to the history and impact of immigration in Canada. It’s located in a historic immigration shed on a pier in Halifax harbor, and it began as the Pier 21 Society: a research center focused on European immigration through Halifax in the 20th century. But in 2012, it became a national museum and assumed a much broader mandate. Over the next several years, the institution dramatically expanded its scope, developing new exhibitions that explored the immigration story nationwide and tripling the size of its staff.


Newly designated as one of Canada’s seven national museums, CMI was having trouble shedding its past as an historical site and embracing its new role as a national theme-based institution.


While a name change would require an act of parliament, we were able to give the museum a powerful tagline. Through organizational alignment work, we additionally built commitment to a new visitor-centric ethos focused on the Brand Idea: Gateway to Empathy.


Working through tensions between the marketing and curatorial departments, as well as the cultural differences between those who had worked for Pier 21 (an historic site) and those hired to make the museum a national destination, we moved the entire organization toward a focus on empathy and thus the visitor experience.


We began with a Discovery Workshop in Halifax including a wide range of staff from all levels, including senior leadership, front-line staff, curatorial staff, and administrative staff. Here we developed the museum’s Brand Pyramid. In answering “What is the Canadian Museum of Immigration,” we immediately encountered the duality between the historic site and the modern national museum. Our final answer was “A gateway for all to discover the history and impact of immigration and our place in the ongoing story of Canada.” The “gateway” evokes Pier 21 as a physical space, while “ongoing story of Canada” reflects the breadth of the museum’s mission.

The notion of being a “gateway” returned in our Brand Idea, at the top of the Brand Pyramid: “Gateway to Empathy.” This idea led to a strong debate which continues today. Most of the research and curatorial staff were resistant to it, finding it to be heavy-handed and overly suggestive of a political agenda. They preferred “understanding” to “empathy,” preferring a more traditional and academic alternative. But the front-line visitor experience staff argued strongly that while understanding would always be important, empathy was the better end goal. It would drive the creation of a more emotional and entertaining experience that would lead to greater impact for visitors.

This issue is at the heart of what it means to be a museum. How should we balance the needs to educate and entertain? To be academic and objective but also emotional and engaging? Given that much of the museum’s visitorship is from out-of-town tourists, we decided that the museum needed to emphasize its status as a cultural tourism attraction and that empathy was a superior principle to understanding in pursuit of this goal.


Persona Interviews: We conducted qualitative research through persona interviews with two groups: parents from the Halifax area and empty-nester tourists from the Toronto area (where the majority of out-of-town visitors are from). Research strongly confirmed “Gateway to Empathy” as a resonant Brand Idea, and all but one interviewee agreed that empathy was a more impactful goal for the visitor experience.

Research also uncovered a problem: the inaccurate perception that the museum is mainly focused on European immigration through Halifax. As expected, the name and location led some to doubt whether it would deliver on the mission of telling a national story.

Discovery: Brand Pyramid

The yield from our diagnostic work with a cross section of leadership and staff yielded a new distilled set of Core Values: Collaboration, Impact, and Authenticity, which would serve as a guide for the cultural alignment work we proceeded to roll out internally. We also landed on the Brand Idea, “Gateway to Empathy,” connecting to the fact that the location served as a key immigration gateway for Canada, as well as communicating the emphasis they would place on the visitor experience.

1. What is the Canadian Museum of Immigration?

A gateway for all to discover the history and impact of immigration and our place in the ongoing story of Canada.

2. How does the Canadian Museum of Immigration deliver its benefits?

  • Personalized staff/volunteer interaction
  • Authenticity
  • Participatory experience

3. Why? (Emotional & Practical Drivers)

I want …

  • something relevant to my values
  • to learn something
  • something to do during bad weather
  • a family-friendly activity
  • to visit a place with high stature (it’s a national museum)
  • to learn about/connect with other cultures
  • to celebrate a family milestone

4. Core Values

  • Collaboration
  • Impact
  • Authenticity

5. Brand Idea

Gateway to Empathy

Discovery: Competitive Advantage Diagram

In addition to the Brand Pyramid, we created Competitive Advantage Diagrams for multiple target audiences. This allowed for marketing communications that were both tailored and tightly aligned with the brand strategy.


Empty Nester Tourists
Profile: Aged 50+, living in the Greater Toronto Area, and have children who are grown and out of the house. Have not visited the museum before but like to travel and see Halifax as an appealing destination.

  1. Museums that offer a personalized experience with engaging staff
  2. Museums that offer an interactive experience in which you can participate
  3. Feel pride in the openness of Canadian society
  4. Museums that are objective and do not take a political position
  5. Learn more about their family’s immigration history
  6. Use guided tours to visit new places
  7. Frequently visit museums when traveling to new cities
  8. Frequently attend exhibitions and other cultural events
  9. Museums that have historically relevant content
  10. Museums that build empathy for the immigrant experience
  11. Use TripAdvisor to research attractions in new cities
  12. Visit the Maritimes once every few years
  13. Visit locations of historical significance during travels
  14. Museums that show stories from individual people
  15. Museums with a staff that is available for questions but isn’t overbearing
  16. Reasonable entry prices (below $30)
  17. Learn more about the history of immigration in Canada
  18. Research attractions on local tourism websites
  19. Use Facebook to find things to do
  20. Visit museums most often in connection with particular exhibitions
  21. Visit attractions in easily accessible locations
  22. Museums that offer a family pass for cheaper group admission
  23. An immersive experience that lets you see and feel what the immigration process is like
  24. Recommendations from locals in new cities
  25. Read local blogs to find things to do in new cities
  26. Read travel magazines and guidebooks when planning trips
  27. Understand both the positives and negatives of immigration
  28. Prioritize outdoor activities on vacations
  29. Museums that have a national profile
  30. Learn about natural history and indigenous cultures through travel
Jennifer Sutherland

“Many agencies have come before and failed to give us this essential element: a truly remarkable tagline.”

Jennifer Sutherland / VP, Communications and Partnership, Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21


Strategy: Based on our Discovery and Research findings, we developed a Brand Positioning Statement for the museum that makes a promise that all staff can be excited to work together in fulfilling. It clearly describes the museum’s unique value proposition and its competitive position, mitigating the confusion that was hindering the development of a clear brand. We also turned the positioning statement into a more conversational and usable elevator speech that will aid staff in their description of the institution and help ensure that everyone is sharing the brand story in a consistent manner.

Our findings strongly emphasized the need to de-emphasize the name “Pier 21” and focus on building a brand for the “Canadian Museum of Immigration” in its own right. This means staff must cease referring to the institution as Pier 21; it also implies changes in signage and other collateral.

Alignment: We returned to Halifax to lead all staff in workshops that helped define the relationship between the museum’s Core Values (developed in the Discovery phase) and everyone’s daily work. These workshops empowered staff to speak up about areas of improvement they saw and are helping to make the work environment more collaborative and productive.

Creative Execution

Tagline: The museum needed a memorable tagline that was able to tie the brand together in a emotional way. We were told that many agencies had tried to craft one that would stick and be embraced by staff; so far none had succeeded.

Based on our understanding of the brand, the mission, and the content of the museum, we entered a brainstorming process based on the idea of capturing, at once, the national story and the individual stories that make it up. Our final option was unanimously endorsed: Countless Journeys, One Canada.

Advertising Campaign Concept: Based on this tagline and our strategy work, specifically the notion of empathy, we developed a campaign concept to inspire the museum’s marketing efforts. It is based on the idea that everyone is an immigrant in some fashion—whether they recognize it or not. It could be yourself, your mother, or your great-great-great grandfather. By challenging modern stereotypes around who is an immigrant, we can build a more empathetic and welcoming society.

Marie Chapman

“You’ve really helped us separate the wheat from the chaff. And you’ve really helped me have that a-ha moment about the focus on the visitor. You have been endlessly helpful in exactly what you set out to do.”

Marie Chapman / CEO, Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21