The City of Surrey officially dubbed 75A Avenue between 120 Street and 121A Street “Komagata Maru Way” in July of last year. Now, the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society is asking the City of Delta to follow suit. (James Smith photo)

The City of Surrey officially dubbed 75A Avenue between 120 Street and 121A Street “Komagata Maru Way” in July of last year. Now, the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society is asking the City of Delta to follow suit. (James Smith photo)

Delta heritage committee signs off on request to commemorate Komagata Maru victims

The Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society proposed renaming a park, street or other civic asset

A street in North Delta could soon be renamed to honour the passengers of the Komagata Maru.

Raj Toor, the grandson of one of the passengers on the Komagata Maru and vice-president of the non-profit Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, presented Delta council’s Heritage Advisory Commission with a proposal on Wednesday, July 8 to name a park, street or other civic asset in memory of the passengers of the Komagata Maru.

The society’s proposal comes almost a year after the City of Surrey renamed 75A Avenue between 120 Street and 121A Street “Komagata Maru Way” following a similar request by the society.

READ MORE: Surrey unveils Komagata Maru Way signs

“It would seem appropriate to rename the Delta part of 75A Avenue from 120th Street to 114th Street ‘Komagata Maru Way’ to show that consideration of this event transcends municipal boundaries,” Toor told Delta’s Heritage Advisory Commission.

“This would be greatly appreciated, not only by descendants of the passengers and by all of the South Asian community in Canada, but by every Canadian who believes in treating all humans with dignity and respect.”

Following Toor’s presentation, the commission unanimously passed a motion endorsing the society’s request, which will be forwarded to city council, along with staff recommendations, for their consideration in the coming months.

Toor said he was pleased with the commission’s vote, noting the large South Asian population living on both sides of Scott Road/120th Street.

“The South Asian community is a very important part of Delta,” Toor told the Reporter. “The South Asian community was very important in the development of modern-day Delta, and the Komagata Maru is an important part of the South Asian community’s history and B.C.’s history and Canadian history.”

RELATED: North Delta history: South Asian settlement throughout the 20th century

Toor said the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society worked for more than 15 years to get apologies from both provincial and federal governments, stressing the society has never asked for any compensation for the passengers’ families.

As a result of the society’s efforts, the B.C. government apologized for the incident in 2008, followed by the federal government in 2016 and, most recently, the City of Vancouver on June 10, 2020, and several memorials have been erected throughout the region.

Passengers aboard Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, 1914. (Library and Archives Canada image)

The Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver from Hong Kong on May 23, 1914, carrying 376 passengers, according to komagatamarujourney.ca. Most of the passengers were immigrants from the Punjab region in what was then British India.

The hundreds of passengers, according to thecanadianencyclopedia.ca, were not allowed on shore. For two months, they remained in the waters outside of Vancouver.

“A long confrontation ensued with the passengers resisting immigration department efforts to make them leave voluntarily,” reads the website. “These efforts included limiting their communications with the outside world, blocking their attempts to take their case to a Canadian court, refusing to supply the ship with food and water except when conditions became desperate; and, at one point after a continuing standoff, attempting to take control of the ship by force with a police boarding party.”

At the time, according to the thecanadianencyclopedia.ca, the Continuous Passage regulation was in effect which meant immigration officers could “block the entry of anyone who came to Canada other than by continuous journey from their home country. Another regulation, the website adds, was that immigration officers could turn back “any Asians who arrived with less than $200, a very large sum in 1914.”

The passengers were eventually forced to return to India, but upon their return, some of the passengers were shot and killed “in an encounter with British Indian police,” according to the canadianencyclopedia.ca.

— with files from Tom Zillich



editor@northdeltareporter.com

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