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Canada Place given secondary name and signage honouring Komagata Maru passengers

Click to play video: 'Komagata Maru Place artist explains honorary street sign designs'
Komagata Maru Place artist explains honorary street sign designs
WATCH: Vancouver has unveiled honorary street signage for Komagata Maru Place in the city's downtown. At a news conference on Friday, artist Jag Nagra described her inspiration for the designs and her hopes that the signs act as a reminder for everyone to avoid repeating tragedies of the past – Feb 9, 2024

The City of Vancouver has unveiled new honourary street signs at Canada Place in recognition of one of the darker chapters in the city’s history.

Canada Place will now also be known as Komagata Maru Place, an acknowledgment of the city’s role in historical discrimination against people of South Asian origin.

Click to play video: 'City of Vancouver issues official apology for role in Komagata Maru incident'
City of Vancouver issues official apology for role in Komagata Maru incident

“You can’t legislate racism away,” Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim said Friday.

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“You have to educate people so they’re not ignorant and they understand why these cultures are important and why they contribute to the social fabric of our society.”

The name recognizes the Komagata Maru, a steamship that was turned away from Vancouver in 1914 with about 340 Sikh, 24 Muslim and 12 Hindu passengers aboard from the Punjab in then-British East India.

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The site for the new honourary designation was chosen because of its proximity to where the vessel was stationed in Burrard Inlet at the time.

The new signage was created by Jag Nagra, a queer Punjabi visual artist, and storyboards have been mounted on lamp posts at the site with artwork and history detailing the incident.

Click to play video: 'Anti-hate rally held at damaged Komagata Maru memorial in Vancouver'
Anti-hate rally held at damaged Komagata Maru memorial in Vancouver

Family members of some of the passengers aboard were on hand to mark the occasion.

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“My grandfather … came in the Komagata Maru Guru Nanak steamship. He came for a higher education. He had a university degree from India,” said Jas Toor of the Descendants of Komagata Maru Society.

“Since he went to English school … he was fluent in English. When the ship went back to India he survived British firing, but he was thrown in jail along with the other passengers for approximately two to five years.”

Under laws of the time specifically designed to stop the flow of Indian immigrants, people emigrating had to arrive via “continuous passage,” meaning a single trip with no stops between their country of origin and Canada.

At the time, no steamships travelled between Calcutta and Vancouver.

Click to play video: 'Port Moody unveils new heritage storyboard commemorating Komagata Maru tragedy'
Port Moody unveils new heritage storyboard commemorating Komagata Maru tragedy

The ship was never allowed to dock, leaving passengers stranded aboard for about two months before the vessel was escorted back out to sea by the Canadian military.

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The steamship eventually ended up back in India, where, according to scholars at Simon Fraser University who have studied the incident, 19 of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking. Others were imprisoned.

The B.C. legislature offered a formal apology for the event in 2008, as did the federal government in 2016.

The City of Vancouver made its own apology in 2021, and officially declared May 23 as Komagata Maru Remembrance Day.

— with files from Monique Scotti

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