06/25/2015 01:15 EDT | Updated 06/25/2016 05:59 EDT

Canadian Museum of Immigration reopens in Halifax following expansion

HALIFAX - Tibor Lukacs remembers the day he first set foot inside Pier 21 as a young Hungarian refugee — and the many days and nights he spent at the immigration facility in the months that followed.

"I lived in this particular building for five and a half months when we arrived in Canada in 1958," said Lukacs.

"In a way, I call it home."

The newly-renovated Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax officially reopened Thursday, following a $30 million expansion.

The building on the Halifax waterfront was the entry point for close to one million immigrants to Canada between 1928 and 1971.

When he arrived as a child, Lukacs says there were no other accommodations available so he was housed at the immigration facility.

"We were given everything, for which we are very grateful," he said, fondly recalling walking to his new school each day from the pier.

This week he came back to Halifax from Ontario to attend the reopening ceremony after the museum's expansion.

"It's absolutely awesome ... you need lots of time to go through this and decipher it bit by bit and reflect on what you have experienced," said Lukacs.

The immigration facility was restored as a heritage site in the 1990s, a project spearheaded by Ruth Goldbloom.

Born in Cape Breton to a Russian immigrant mother, Goldbloom helped establish the museum in 1999. It opened as the country's national immigration museum in 2011, the year before Goldbloom died.

"I can't even begin to articulate the joy she would have felt to have witnessed the expansion of the building," said her daughter Barbara Goldbloom Hughes after the ceremony on Thursday.

"When my mother first became involved it just absorbed her every waking moment ... We really had no idea of the scope of what she was undertaking."

Julian Fantino, associate minister of National Defence, spoke at the ceremony of his own experience passing through Pier 21 as a child in 1953 when his family immigrated from Italy.

"For me it's a trip back in time and it's indeed a very personal one," Fantino said.

"Most people arrived here, as I did with my family, with nothing more than the determination to succeed and a desire to build and to continue to contribute."

Renovations at Pier 21 include a new permanent exhibit on the past four centuries of immigration to Canada and updates to the existing exhibit on the building's history as a point of entry for immigrants.