SFU recognizes Komagata Maru incident

Photo courtesy of SFU University Communications

Students, political leaders, and community members congregated at SFU’s Vancouver campus on May 23 to honour the 101st anniversary of the arrival of the Komagata Maru.

A memorial of the Komagata Maru incident was erected in 2012. It remains in Coal Harbour to the honour immigrants who were turned away from starting a new life in Canada.

That same day in 1914, the overcrowded ship from Hong Kong carrying 376 passengers was denied docking at a Vancouver port. Of the 376 Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu passengers on the vessel, only 20 were allowed to remain in Canada due to the Continuous Passage regulation, which had been enacted in 1908.

The regulation came at a time when the Canadian government was discouraging the immigration of people of Asian descent, and disallowed the immigration of people not travelling directly from the country of their birth.

The Komagata Maru was led out of the harbour by the Canadian military on July 23, 1914, and the crew was forced to sail back to Budge Budge, India. However, upon arrival in Budge Budge, nineteen passengers were shot and multiple others imprisoned.

SFU has been commemorating the Komagata Maru since 2010. Brian Owen,  Associate University Librarian at the SFU Library, spoke to the The Peak about the university’s participation.

“The SFU Library undertook a very large digitization project commencing in 2010 to collect, digitize, and provide a wide array of historical content and resources on the Komagata Maru.

“We worked with a wide range of community participants from the South Asian community, including interviews with community pioneers and others familiar with the event,” explained Owen.

The SFU Library, along with Citizen and Immigration Canada, launched an educational website about the Komagata Maru in 2010.

The website shares historical documentation about the event and the passengers on board the ship. Recently, 50 new photos and a lost diary of J Edward Bird, a lawyer for the Komagata Maru passengers, were posted to the site.

Owen shared, “The intention of the site is to provide a comprehensive and balanced resource for anyone wanting to find out more about the Komagata Maru and the issues associated with it.”

The library will continue to update the site with new additions from specific populations involved in the event, and has educational resources for children from kindergarten to grade 12.

“The latest additions include several diaries from the local South Asian community. There are also lesson plans that were developed for use by K–12 teachers,” Owen continued. “All of the content is open to the general public; in the last 12 months the site had almost 29,000 visitors from 117 different countries.”

Owen further stated objectives of the Komagata Maru memorial and website are to expose the significance of the event in Canadian history, to capture the struggles of Indo-Canadian community, and to support the spread of knowledge through the public education system and the community at large.