Komagata Maru descendants want Surrey street renamed to honour voyagers
Published Sunday, January 13, 2019 6:32PM PST
Raj Toor is living the life his ancestors dreamed of but never had.
Toor's grandfather was one of 376 passengers aboard the Komagata Maru who were hoping to challenge immigration laws, which at the time, refused entry to anyone from India who was not arriving via a continuous journey.
The regulation was implemented as a way to curb Indian immigration to Canada.
The Japanese stream ship sailed into the banks of Vancouver's Burrard Inlet in May 1914 and was anchored there for two months, forcing the passengers to live in deplorable conditions.
Only 20 passengers who had previously lived in Canada were allowed to disembark and the ship was turned away.
When it returned to India, 19 of the passengers were shot and killed in a riot with British authorities. Dozens were imprisoned, including Toor's grandfather, or forced into hiding.
"During the tragedy, those passengers suffered a lot and their sacrifice and their struggles should be recognized," said Toor, a spokesperson for Descendants of Komagata Maru Society.
He and other descendants would like 128 Street, between 72 Avenue and 88 Avenue, renamed to honour the passengers.
He acknowledges there is already a memorial in Vancouver, but the majority of the South Asian population lives in Surrey.
"If we are driving down this street and reading that name that will remind our generations about the incident that happened a hundred of years ago," said Mahesh Gupta, who has a business on 128 Street.
Renaming the street would go against city rules
Surrey city councillors said although the incident was tragic, it didn't happen in Surrey and therefore, doesn't meet street naming requirements.
Jack Hundial said typically, streets are named after those who significantly contributed to building the city or a historic event.
"The rules around renaming streets are pretty clear in the City of Surrey," he said. "I would encourage the applicants and reach a boarder consensus with the South Asian community."
Councillors suggest there may be other ways to pay tribute to the Komagata Maru passengers, such as a memorial or a park.
"We're a vibrant community as it is and full of diversity and we do want to celebrate those. So there is always other options we can look at, perhaps naming a street isn't the only thing," said Brenda Locke.
Toor is holding out hope 128 Street can still be renamed, but said he would be happy as long as the Komagata Maru tragedy is honoured in some way.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Emad Agahi