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Port Moody storyboard to memorialize the fate of the Komagata Maru

A century ago, the ship carried 376 passengers from India who went without food or water for two months after being denied permission to dock in Vancouver.
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Raj Singh Toor looks out over Burrard Inlet near the old Flavelle Cedar Mill in Port Moody, where descendants from passengers aboard the Komagata Maru ship that was prevented from bringing Indian immigrants into Canada in 1914 likely worked.

Port Moody is set to spend $1,815 to install a storyboard commemorating a 107-year-old tragedy. 

The sign will tell the story of the Komagata Maru, a Japanese ship that sailed into Vancouver in May 1914, but was refused permission to dock for two months to disembark its 376 Sikh, Muslim and Hindu passengers or get them basic supplies like food and water.

After the beleaguered vessel was escorted back to India by a Canadian naval ship, several of the passengers were killed or injured by British troops.

Others were sent to jail, where many became radicalized and ended up taking a role in India’s fight for independence.

Raj Singh Toor, the vice-president of the Descendants of Komagata Maru Society, said the fate of the tragedy reaches far into several Lower Mainland communities, including Port Moody, where relatives and descendants of some of its passengers settled and worked in local lumber mills.

He said the story of the Komagata Maru needs to be memorialized as a teaching tool for current and future generations about the toll racism can exact.

“There’s still systemic racism,” said Toor, whose grandfather was among the Komagata Maru’s passengers who was imprisoned for five years upon his return to India.

“We have to educate the communities that this can’t happen again.”

In his 15-year quest to memorialize the Komagata Maru, Toor has had several successes, including apologies from the Canadian and B.C. governments, as well as another from Vancouver in June 2020.

Storyboards have also been erected in a number of communities like North Delta, Surrey and Brampton, Ont., and the City of New Westminster agreed to name a dock in Queensborough after the rejected vessel.

In a report to council, Port Moody policy planner Jess Daniels said staff in her department will work with the city’s parks staff to determine an appropriate location for the storyboard, either along the Shoreline Trail near the Old Mill site or at Rocky Point Park looking toward the property formerly occupied by the Flavelle sawmill.

Its design and content will be done in consultation with the Descendants of Komagata Maru Society.