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Canada Komagata Maru Story To Be Told On-line


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
The Komagata Maru incident, which played out in Vancouver’s harbour over two months in the summer of 1914, is one of the most infamous events in the early history of the city.

Now, with financial backing from the federal government and input from leaders of the local Sikh community, Simon Fraser University is overseeing the creation of an extensive website that will tell the story in great depth.

It’s a story of aspiration, survival, massacre and a milestone in the Sikhs’ struggle for equality against racial intolerance in a young country of immigrants.

The Komagata Maru carried 376 hopeful Punjabi immigrants to Canada, only to be denied entry once it reached Vancouver by Canada’s exclusion law.

About 20 passengers eventually were able to prove residency and were allowed to disembark.

In July, the ship was sent back to Calcutta, leaving Canadian waters under military escort.

The British, who ruled India at the time, wanted to put all the returning passengers onto a special train to the Punjab, but many of them resisted.

Emotions were raw at the Budge Budge dock in Calcutta and British soldiers attempting to control the crowd opened fire, killing about 20 people. Some survivors were sent to jail.

“It was a very specific historical event here which has had ripples and repercussions way after the original event,” SFU associate university librarian Brian Owen told The Province on Wednesday.

“We’ve been mindful that we want to collect and present content and information here in a way that is balanced and representative of the range of opinion out there.”

A motherlode of information on the website will be an interactive version of retired SFU history professor Hugh Johnston’s book “The Voyage of the Komagata Maru,” said Owen.

“It’s one of those interesting things where you take a single historical incident and the themes or threads that come out from it go in so many different directions,” he said.

If people log on to they will find is “a very basic little placeholder website,” but by the end of the year, Owen expects much more will be accomplished on it, although the work will carry on to completion some time beyond that.

It can also be found at komagatamaruincident.ca.

The federal government has provided funding of nearly $500,000 for the project.

To illustrate the depth of material and the need to present different points of view, Owen said he has seen his own perceptions of the incident evolve.

“There are so many little details that start come out the more you get into it that, if I look at the statements I was making about it a few months ago, I’m getting more and more refined and nuanced on how I look at it,” said Owen.

In the case of Gurjit Singh, who organized the voyage, Owen mused, “Was he really inspired by political or revolutionary means, or was he just a businessman who thought he could capitalize on a loophole [in the law] that had been exploited successfully by several previous ships?”

Owen said a year before the Komagata Maru arrived, about 70 Sikh passengers on a ship called the Panama Maru had been allowed to enter Canada through the loophole.

“There’s any number of interpretations,” he said.

• The city of Vancouver is commemorating the incident as well.

The parks board has accepted the donation of a monument to incident to be installed in Harbour Green Park, hopefully by March 2012.

Read more: http://www.theprovince.com/life/Komagata+Maru+story+told+online/5134368/story.html#ixzz1SlWO6JJ0


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