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Abbotsford city staff to work with 4 groups to commemorate Komagata Maru tragedy

Options to be considered for ‘lasting memorial’ to honour victims of 1914 incident
Passengers aboard Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, 1914. (Library and Archives Canada image)

City of Abbotsford staff will work with four organizations to determine the best way for the community to commemorate the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, council voted on Monday (April 12).

The decision arose from discussion at a council meeting on Feb. 22, when Abbotsford resident Lakhwinder Jhaj appeared by video to request that a local street be named in memory of the historical event.

Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong also appeared in support of Jhaj’s request.

It was later revealed that Surrey resident Raj Singh Toor, vice-president of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, had first approached the city in 2019, requesting that a street or park in Abbotsford be named in memory of the victims of the Komagata Maru incident.

Toor, whose grandfather was among those aboard the ship, said he was disappointed that he had not been invited to speak at the February council meeting.

At this week’s meeting, councillors and Mayor Henry Braun acknowledged the oversight and thanked Toor for his work on the project.

The 1914 incident involved the Japanese steamship Komagata Maru, on which 376 people from Punjab Province in British India attempted to immigrate to Canada, landing in Vancouver in May of that year.

Most were denied entry and, for 63 days, the passengers stayed on the ship with dwindling food and water, and were forced to return to India.

Within hours of disembarking, 20 of the passengers were killed in an encounter with British Indian police and troops.

At the February council meeting, it was suggested that Fairlane Street be considered for renaming because it borders the Gur Sikh Gurdwara (temple), which is North America’s oldest gurdwara.

The matter was referred to city staff for a report, which was presented at Monday’s executive council meeting.

The report listed three options – renaming Fairlane Street, awaiting the completion of a city policy on the commemorative naming of parks and other civic assets, or endorsing staff to work with local “knowledge experts.”

Council was unanimous in its support of the third option. This involves staff partnering with Jhaj, the South Asia Studies Institute at University of the Fraser Valley, the Abbotsford Khalsa Diwan Society, the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society and Heritage Abbotsford.

RELATED: Abbotsford council is asked to rename street in memory of Komagata Maru victims

The group will determine “an appropriate place and commemorative action that recognizes and honours the rich South Asian heritage in Abbotsford,” says the staff report.

Proposed plans and financial considerations will be presented to council at a later date.

“While this partnership may take time to examine options and come to a consensus on a project, it will like develop into a project that is impactful for those affected by this incident, the local South Asian community and the community at large,” the report states.

Toor said he was pleased with the “thoughtful manner” in which staff prepared the report to council. He said he is looking forward to working with the city and the other groups “in helping to create a lasting memorial to the Komagata Maru that will make our community more tolerant and accepting.”

He said that many of the 2,000 South Asian families living in B.C. in 1914 resident in Abbotsford, and the community helped the stranded Komagata Maru passengers by providing food, water and medication.

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Raj Singh Toor (left) with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after an official apology for the treatment of Komagata Maru passengers in 1914. Toor is now among a group who will determine how in Abbotsford to best commemorate the tragedy. (Contributed photo)

Vikki Hopes

About the Author: Vikki Hopes

I have been a journalist for almost 40 years, and have been at the Abbotsford News since 1991.
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