The Komagata Maru Incident Project
On May 23, 1914, a crowded ship from Hong Kong carrying 376 passengers, many would be immigrants from Punjab, India, arrived in Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, British Columbia. The passengers, all British subjects, were challenging the Continuous Passage Act which stated that immigrants must “come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth, or citizenship.”2 The Act had been brought into force in 1908 in an effort to curb Indian immigration to Canada. As a result, the Komagata Maru was denied docking by the authorities and only twenty returning residents and the ship’s doctor and his family were eventually granted admission to Canada. Following a two month stalemate, the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian military on July 23 and forced to sail back to India where nineteen of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking and many others imprisoned.
The Komagata Maru incident has been a stark example frequently used in schools to illustrate historical difficulties in race relations in Canada. It is referenced in news articles and text books, with official historical documents used as source documents. Yet these documents were usually written from the perspective of the Canadian officials, and the Indo-Canadian experience, as well as the more subtle nuances of the relations, has not been widely explored.
How has this incident affected the Indo-Canadian community? With a long history in Canada, Indo-Canadians were here before the Komagata Maru incident, and the event is but one in many generations of the community’s experience. How have more recent immigrants integrated this history as they make Canada their home? What role does the Komagata Maru play in forming contemporary attitudes? How has it become a wellspring of creativity for poets and artists?
1Johnston, Hugh. The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 1989. p. 48.
2S.C. 1908, c. 33.
The Komagata Maru Incident Project will create a content-rich website with a comprehensive collection of key materials and related resources. Educators, students and the general public will be able to learn more about this historic incident and its impact on later culture and experience
This will be done through digitized content, interviews of key scholars and community members, short videos and learning modules.
A key feature of the website will be the integration of digital text(s) about the Komagata Maru incident that link directly to primary and supplementary source materials.
Some translations will be available in English, Punjabi and French.
This is a preliminary list of the variety of materials that will soon be available on the Komagata Maru Incident website. More content will be identified and added in the coming months:
- Digitized books: including Hugh Johnston’s The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar
- Primary documents: government reports, correspondence, legal documents, newspaper clippings, diaries, maps, etc.
- Cultural materials: poetry, plays, songs, etc
- Stories: personal biographies of individuals associated with the Komagata Maru incident
- Photographs: historical and contemporary
- Interviews: with scholars and the Indo-Canadian community
- Videos: including Sushma Datt’s The Komagata Maru: a Voyage of Shattered Dreams.
- Lesson plans: for various grade levels
The project commenced in early 2011 and will be completed by March, 2012.
Funding for the Komagata Maru Incident Project has been provided by Citizenship and Immigration Canada under the auspices of the Community Historical Recognition Program(CHRP).
The project is being hosted and coordinated by the SFU Library who is also providing in-kind support and expertise.
Advisory Committee Members
- Dr. Mario Pinto, Vice-President Research, SFU (chair)
- Arvinder Bubber, F.C.A., Chancellor, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
- Joanne Curry, Executive Director, SFU Surrey
- Joe Dhaliwal, Entrepreneur
- Dr. Bikkar Lalli, UBC Senate, retired professor
- Randy Sandhu, former Vice-President, National Indo-Canadian Council for B.C.
Steering Committee Members
- Brian Own (chair)
- Hugh Johnston (SFU Professor Emeritus, History)
- Barbara Winter (SFU Archaeology Museum)
- Roland Case (TC2)
- Ivana Filopivic (TLC)
- Eric Swanick (Head, SFU Library Special Collections)
- David Murphy (SFU School of Communications)
- Lynn Copeland (former Dean of Library Services)
- Harjinder Thind (Information Services Librarian, Surrey Public Library)
- ex officio- members of Project Management Committee
News and Events
If you have information or content that may be a good addition to the project, SFU Library would be pleased to hear from you. For more information about the project contact us at: email@example.com.