Today, Mayor Ken Sim and distinguished guests, including stakeholders from the South Asian Canadian community, gathered to unveil the honorary street signage for Komagata Maru Place in downtown Vancouver.
The honorary naming and new signage is the outcome of a May 2023 City Council decision and a further act of cultural redress for the City’s role in the 1914 Komagata Maru tragedy. The steam ship Guru Nanak Jahaaz, more commonly known as the Komagata Maru, had an estimated 340 Sikh, 24 Muslim and 12 Hindu passengers onboard, including women and children, most from Punjab, British India. Their detainment, mistreatment, harassment, injury and loss of life marks a tragic period of systemic discrimination from all three levels of government.
The site for Komagata Maru Place was chosen for its historic significance, being the location closest to where the Komagata Maru ship was stationed in Burrard Inlet in 1914.
The new signage was created by artist Jag Nagra, a queer, Punjabi, visual artist passionate about art accessibility, community development and combatting LGBTQ+ stigma in the South Asian community. The storyboards affixed to the lampposts at eye-level allow passersby to learn about the artwork and the history of the Komagata Maru tragedy. A QR code directs readers to a webpage (vancouver.ca/komagata-maru) with more information.
On May 18, 2021, Vancouver City Council formally apologized for the role it played in discriminating against passengers aboard the Komagata Maru in 1914, and officially declared May 23 as Komagata Maru Remembrance Day.
City Council has also committed to recognizing the cultural and historic significance of the 2nd Avenue Gurdwara site in Kitsilano. In addition to being where the local South Asian community mobilized in 1914 in support of the Komagata Maru passengers, it was an important social and cultural hub at a time when the community faced significant discrimination and hostility. It was also the first community owned Gurdwara (place of worship and learning) in Canada. Future initiatives will further explore other areas of historical and cultural significance to the South Asian Canadian communities in Vancouver.
“It was an honour to gather with members from South Asian Canadian communities this morning at Komagata Maru Place to reflect on this tragic chapter of our shared history,” said Mayor Ken Sim. “As a City, we are committed to learning from the past and building a more inclusive future. The honorary naming of Komagata Maru Place, and the impressive new signage designed by a talented local artist, Jag Nagra, is one important step in the City’s larger ongoing work to addressing historical discrimination towards South Asian communities.”
“Being able to share our community’s stories through art is something that’s so important to me and it’s an immense honour to have had the opportunity to create artworks for Komagata Maru Place,” said artist Jag Nagra. “My aim was to reflect the plight of the passengers and to humanize their stories, struggles, and the discriminatory practices they faced. The wrongs that have been committed against South Asians in Canada are longstanding, and these two pieces will serve as a physical reminder of our history and a call for greater equity and understanding.”
This secondary, honorary naming forms one part of the City’s larger commitment to cultural redress efforts for historical discrimination against South Asian communities.
The City wishes to thank and acknowledge the many individuals and community groups involved in the honorary naming and creation of the signage. These include, but are not limited to, the Komagata Maru Descendants Society; Khalsa Diwan Society; Punjabi Market Collective; the City of Vancouver’s artist selection panel of South Asian artists, curators and cultural workers; and the Historical Discrimination Against People of South Asian Descent Community Advisory Committee.