Very soon, one block of Abbotsford’s main thoroughfare will be named Komagata Maru Way.
The decision comes after descendants of those trapped aboard the ship in 1914, in waters off Vancouver’s harbour, asked a previous council to commemorate the humanitarian role played by Abbotsford’s South Asian community at the time.
Council voted unanimously on Monday (Jan. 30) to commemoratively rename a portion of South Fraser Way to Komagata Maru Way, and to fund a plaque and educational kits that will ensure the story will be told to future generations.
The portion is from Ware Street to Fairlane Street, which is also the block that contains the Heritage Sikh Temple Historic Site.
The project will cost $4,000 for the renaming, which won’t affect things like business addresses or mapping. The plan also includes an interpretive plaque at the temple, at a cost of $10,000.
The plaque, along with educational kits for those who visit the temple, will be created in partnership with the South Asian Studies Institute, and will focus on the Abbotsford connection to the humanitarian disaster.
Council was given a package from staff that included the findings from a committee that was created in 2021 to study the issue properly.
It explains that the Sikh temple, the Khalsa Diwan Society and the Abbotsford Sikh community played an important social and economic role for new arrivals from India in the early 1900s.
“They provided food, housing, information, and community connection,” the report states. “Understandably, Sikh residents of Abbotsford rallied together to assist passengers aboard the Komagata Maru as part of the Shore Committee, organizing the delivery of food, water and health items as well as raising funds for lawyers on behalf of the stranded passengers. This Abbotsford connection to the plight of the Komagata Maru passengers in not well-known locally, and should be recognized as an important point of community pride.”
The 376 passengers aboard the ship were mostly from Punjab. They were kept from docking for several months, and eventually forced to return to India. It reached Budge Budge near Kolkata, India on Sept. 23, 1914.
“There the majority of the passengers were imprisoned, and 20 were killed by gunfire when the ship was fired upon,” the report underlines.
One of the passengers imprisoned was the grandfather of Raj Singh Toor, who is now the vice-president of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society.
“His name was Baba Puran Singh Janetpura,” Toor said. “The passengers were Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu, and all were British subjects. Their British citizenship made them eligible to enter Canada. The welcome received by the passengers of the Komagata Maru was a cold refusal by the government to allow the ship to dock.”
Eligible, but not allowed entry.
“The Komagata Maru event was a significant event in the application of racist and exclusionary immigration laws in 1914,” the report explains.
Council thanked staff for the diligent work, including working with local knowledge keepers.
Coun. Dave Loewen admitted as a boy growing up, he was not aware of the depth of the local South Asian community. He said the project will help educate people on this important part of local history, as well as the wider issue of racism in Canada.
Coun. Dave Sidhu called it an “important step in acknowledging and remembering the significant events that took place in our history.”
“The gesture shows a commitment to promoting and understanding inclusiveness, and belonging to all residents regardless of their cultural background. It sends a strong message to our future generations that we must look … to make sure we have a just society for everybody.”
He said it will serve as a reminder of the challenges faced by the South Asian community, as well as providing a symbol that this city is committed to promoting “diversity, equity and justice.”