New panel in B.C. park highlights Sikh community’s efforts to support Komagata Maru passengers

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 City of Port Moody and Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society unveiled a new heritage storyboard in Rocky Point Park on Nov. 9, 2022 commemorating the Komagata Maru tragedy and the role of the local Sikh community in providing relief to its stranded passengers. Raj Singh Toor, whose grandfather was aboard the steamship, speaks about the significance of the new plaque – Nov 9, 2022

A new heritage storyboard in Port Moody, B.C., commemorates the 1914 Komagata Maru tragedy and efforts by the local Sikh community to relieve its ailing passengers.

The tribute in Rocky Point Park was unveiled Wednesday by Mayor Meghan Lahti and Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society vice-president Raj Singh Toor, whose grandfather was aboard the steamship more than 100 years ago.

It was designed by the society, the municipality and the city’s heritage commission to inspire people everywhere to stand up to hatred, racism and discrimination.

“We are the ones who suffered in losing loved ones and who deeply share the pain of our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents being rejected by Canada in 1914,” Toor told a small crowd gathered for the unveiling. “The Komagata Maru interpretative sign in Port Moody will help educate the community and remind us of how unique Canada and Port Moody’s diverse makeup is.

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“We are all richer when we remember how special it is to have so many different ethnic communities living together.”

Nearly 400 people travelled from India to Vancouver aboard the SS Komagata Maru in 1914, but were denied entry due to racist immigration exclusion policies against those of Asian origin. The passengers were Sikh, Muslim and Hindu British subjects.

According to Parks Canada, a 1908 order-in-council required “Asiatic” immigrants to have at least $200 to enter the country. A second order-in-council required all immigrants to come to Canada via “continuous journey,” directly from their country of origin, even though non-stop travel from India to Canada was largely unavailable at the time.

Immigration officials would not allow the vessel to dock, and nearly all 376 of its passengers were forced to return to India after two months on board. They only obtained food and provisions for the journey after weeks of advocacy and fundraising for a lawyer by the local South Asian community.

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

“The City of Port Moody has a direct connection to the Komagata Maru incident,” Toor said Wednesday.

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“About 2,000 South Asian families lived in B.C. in 1914, some families lived in Port Moody working (at a) lumber mill as well who helped give food, water and medication to the Komagata Maru passengers, and also contributed to try to release the ship in an attempt to keep it from being sent back.”

The Sikhs were some of the early pioneers of Port Moody, Toor added. Despite their efforts, the Komagata Maru was forced to return to India.

Upon disembarking there, 19 of its passengers were shot and killed. Many were injured and others were imprisoned, including Toor’s grandfather.

More than 100 years later, the federal government formally apologized for its role in the tragedy, and in May last year, the City of Vancouver did the same.

“The storyboard acknowledges the role of systemic racism in Canada in this tragedy as well as the contribution of the Sikh community as some of Port Moody’s earliest residents and their contributions to the passengers isolated on the steamship,” Lahti said.

“Storyboards placed in public spaces such as this are a great way to learn more about our history.”

A memorial with the names of the vessel’s passengers stands in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour. It has been vandalized and defaced twice in two years, and one person was charged in connection with one of those incidents.


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