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British Columbia

Portion of road in Abbotsford to be commemoratively named Komagata Maru Way

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 the waters off Vancouver’s harbor in 1914 asked an earlier council to commemorate the humanitarian role played by Abbotsford’s South Asian community at the time.

The council voted unanimously Monday (January 30) to rename a portion of the South Fraser Way the Kamagata Maru Way to commemorate and fund a plaque and educational kits to ensure the story is told for future generations.

The section extends from Ware Street to Fairlane Street, which is also the block containing the Heritage Sikh Temple historic site.

The project will cost $4,000 to rebrand, which won’t affect things like business addresses or mapping. The plan also calls for an information board at the temple that will cost $10,000.

The plaque, along with informational materials for visitors to the temple, is being created in conjunction with the South Asian Studies Institute and focuses on the connection between Abbotsford and the humanitarian disaster.

The council received a package from staffers that included the findings of a committee set up in 2021 to adequately investigate the issue.

It explains that the Sikh Temple, the Khalsa Diwan Society and the Abbotsford Sikh community played an important social and economic role for newcomers from India in the early 20th century.

“They provided food, shelter, information and community links,” the report said. “Understandably, Sikh residents of Abbotsford have joined forces to help passengers aboard the Komagata Maru as part of the Coastal Committee, arranging for deliveries of food, water and health items and raising funds for lawyers on behalf of the stranded passengers. This Abbotsford connection to the plight of Komagata Maru passengers is not well known locally and should be recognized as an important point of community pride.”

The 376 passengers on board 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 Calcutta, India, on September 23, 1914.

“There, the majority of the passengers were detained and 20 were killed by gunfire when the ship was fired upon,” the report underscores.

One of the passengers detained was the grandfather of Raj Singh Toor who is now Vice President of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society.

“His name was Baba Puran Singh Janetpura,” said Toor. “The passengers were Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, and all were British subjects. Her British citizenship allowed her to enter Canada. The greeting from the Komagata Maru’s passengers 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 states.

The council thanked the staff for their diligent work, including working with local knowledge leaders.

count. Dave Loewen admitted that as a young boy he was unaware of the depth of the local South Asian community. He said the project will help educate people about this important part of local history, as well as the broader issue of racism in Canada.

count. Dave Sidhu called it an “important step in recognizing and remembering the significant events that have transpired in our history.”

“The gesture shows a commitment to promoting and understanding inclusion and belonging to all residents, regardless of their cultural background. It sends a strong message to our future generations that we must take care to ensure we have a just society for all.”

He said it will serve as a reminder of the challenges facing the South Asian community and be a symbol of this city’s commitment to promoting “diversity, equality and justice.”

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Passengers aboard the Komagata Maru in Vancouver's Burrard Inlet, 1914 - photograph from Library and Archives Canada

Passengers aboard the Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, 1914 – photograph from Library and Archives Canada

A portion of the South Fraser Way in Abbotsford is ceremonially renamed the Komagata Maru Way to honor the humanitarian efforts of the local South Asian community in 1914, thanks in part to the work of Raj Singh Toor (inset), who is now Vice-President of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society.  (Jessica Peters/Abbotsford News) (Inserted photo)

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