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Komagata Maru Place: Downtown Vancouver street may get secondary name

Komagata Maru anniversary

Vancouver council will vote on a recommendation to give a street in the city a "secondary, honorary name" as part of a wider plan to redress the harm done by the Komagata Maru incident.

City staff is recommending that Canada Place also be given the name Komagata Maru Place, saying the waterfront location would be an appropriate one. A "secondary, honorary" renaming means no official addresses will change and no existing street signs will be replaced.

"The street Canada Place offers a direct view of Vancouver’s Harbour where the Komagata Maru ship was held for over two months with its passengers forced to stay onboard and where large crowds would gather daily to get a glimpse of the ship. It would offer residents and tourists arriving to Vancouver on foot, transit and by ship an opportunity to reflect as they learn more about this historic incident," the report says, noting it is also near the memorial in Coal Harbour.

On May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru arrived in Burrard Inlet carrying 376 Sikh, Muslim and Hindu passengers, most of whom were from Punjab, India.

Forbidden from disembarking, the passengers would remain trapped on board in cramped conditions without enough food or water for the next 62 days, until the ship was forced out of the harbour by the Canadian military. When the ship returned to India, 19 passengers were shot and killed and many others were put in prison or placed under house arrest.

"The 1914 Komagata Maru incident represents a significant moment in Canadian and Vancouver history in which the city as local government made deliberately discriminatory decisions founded on racist beliefs that prohibited the landing of South Asian immigrants in Vancouver," the report says.

In 2021, the City of Vancouver formally apologized for the role the municipal government played in what unfolded. The report explains that this included a motion unanimously passed by city council saying it was "unalterably opposed to the admittance of Hindus and other Asiatic races into this country" describing South Asian immigrants as a "menace to our civilization." In addition, the mayor at the time, Truman Baxter, described the passengers as "a boat load of undesirables" and publicly advocated for the ship and everyone on it to be "hauled out to sea."

Municipal police officers were deployed in order to enforce the deportation order and targeted South Asian people living in Vancouver, subjecting them to arbitrary detention, interrogations, and searches.

"The Komagata Maru passengers were Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus from Punjab, yet the historical significance of this incident contributed to decades of racism against South Asian Canadian communities in Vancouver broadly. The incident remains emblematic of the decades of discrimination faced by South Asian Canadians – prior to, during, and after the incident," the report continues.

If council does not approve the secondary name for Canada Place, staff is offering West 2nd Avenue as an alternative. During the incident, the South Asian community mobilized support for the passengers being detained and discriminated against at 2nd Avenue Gurdwara at 1866 W. 2nd Ave. Although this is not the recommended option, staff is proposing finding other ways to recognize to the cultural and historical significance of the gurdwara.

If the granting of a secondary, honorary name is approved at the meeting on May 30, community consultations will be done in order to develop and design signage. An official unveiling would be set for some time in the last quarter of 2023. Top Stories

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