In 1914, over three hundred British subjects from India were denied entry into Canada. One hundred years later their journey and its legacies are being shared across Metro Vancouver.
GENERATIONS, GEOGRAPHIES & ECHOES
On May 23rd, 1914, the Komagata Maru entered Burrard Inlet carrying 376 passengers looking forward to starting their lives in Canada. The ship and those on board arrived despite the recent introduction of Canada’s discriminatory Continuous Passage Regulation, a law that required immigrants to Canada to arrive by a single, direct journey from their country of origin. Because no direct route between the Dominion of Canada and British India existed, this policy was a roundabout means to exclude Indian immigration and preserve — in the words of a popular song of the time — “White Canada forever.”
Like the Canadians on shore, all Komagata Maru passengers were subjects of the British Empire and many had fought for Britain, upholding the very freedoms they now desired. Upon arrival, the passengers were immediately detained by Canadian immigration authorities determined to keep the ship at anchor. Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet became the flashpoint for a standoff that gained international attention.
Their inability to land caused hardship for the passengers, who soon lacked food and water. The passengers were also denied access to medical attention, communication with their family and proper legal counsel. Their challenge to Canada’s right to deny their landing was delayed and eventually denied. On July 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru passengers were forced to leave Canada.
The history of this voyage of the Komagata Maru and its passengers has never been forgotten. The resistance of the passengers and their commitment to the idea of equality promised in a democratic country has continued to be inspiring. It has been referenced in freedom movements around the world. The Komagata Maru is not just a story of what happened in 1914. It is one chapter in a long struggle to create a Canada that resists racism. The story of the Komagata Maru is a story that all Canadians can relate to today.