Passengers aboard the Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet in 1914. (Library and Archives Canada image)

Passengers aboard the Komagata Maru in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet in 1914. (Library and Archives Canada image)

Approval of Komagata Maru signs in North Delta park delayed over process

Lack of policy over where and why historical signs are placed in Delta parks puts proposal on hold

A plan to install signs commemorating the Komagata Maru in a North Delta park hit a snag at Monday’s council meeting, largely over questions of process.

City staff forwarded to council a recommendation to place two signs recognizing the historical significance of the Komagata Maru incident — one in English and one in Punjabi — in Delview Park. The signs would cost the city about $3,000 each, and the staff report notes funding is available through the Heritage Advisory Committee’s 2020 interpretive sign program.

The recommendation stems from a proposal from the non-profit Descendents of the Komagata Maru Society in July to name a park, street or other civic asset in memory of the ship’s passengers.

The Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver from Hong Kong in May 1914, carrying 376 passengers. Most of the passengers were immigrants from the Punjab region in what was then British India. The hundreds of passengers were not allowed on shore, and for two months they remained in the waters outside of Vancouver before being forced to return to India.

Upon their return, 20 of the passengers were shot and killed “in an encounter with British Indian police and troops,” according to canadianencyclopedia.ca.

The proposal was endorsed by Delta’s Heritage Advisory Committee on July 8, then again on Oct. 14 after staff identified Delview Park as a suitable location for the commemorative signs.

READ MORE: Delta heritage committee signs off on request to commemorate Komagata Maru victims

The plan then went to the city’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission on Oct. 29, however, commissioners agreed that the body could not make an informed decision without discussion or a presentation relative to the commission’s role in the process, and requested that a policy be developed to assist in determining the types and placement of signage in park spaces.

On Monday, Dec. 7, the plan came before council, before any such policy had been created and brought before the commission.

The City of Delta is considering placing two signs commemorating the Komagata Maru in North Delta’s Delview Park, one in English (pictured) and one in Punjabi. (City of Delta photo)

Discussing the staff recommendation Monday night, Coun. Dan Copeland, who also serves as vice-chair of the parks commission, said that while he recognizes the significance of the Komagata Maru incident, he has concerns over the process thus far, re-iterating the commission’s questions about Delta’s policies and procedures for where and why historical signs are placed in city parks.

“Definitely the Komagata Maru event is a tragic historical event that I believe does need recognition,” Copeland said.

“I think one of the reasons that it came [before the Heritage Advisory Committee] is they are in charge of signs and recognition through their committee. But … we get mixed up between a historical event and a historical place.”

Copeland added, “there’s nothing germane about the Komagata Maru to Delview Par,” before moving that the proposal be sent back “for a more fulsome discussion.” Coun. Jeannie Kanakos seconded the motion.

Coun. Dylan Kruger said he liked the placement of the signs in a “prominent location” like Delview Park, as opposed to — or in addition to — other locations including the new Douglas J. Husband Discovery Centre in Ladner.

“I’m always amazed at how many people aren’t even aware that this is part of our history here in Vancouver, these terrible events that happened 100 years ago that are evidence of a lot of the systemic racism that we continue to feel the effects of today,” Kruger said.

“I think the notion of placing more historical signage, cultural signage, is a good objective for the city for a number of reasons. I think it creates a sense of place and community in our parks, it adds a cultural element to our parks in addition to the recreational element, it fits a lot of the mandate of what we’re trying to do as a council to create exciting and vibrant spaces where people want to be.”

“I love that it’s so relatively inexpensive to do and yet the payoff I think is quite substantial for the community,” he continued. “I think it’s a good idea, I think it checks a lot of boxes. I hope we can do more of this sort of thing in the future.”

RELATED: Surrey unveils Komagata Maru Way signs

Coun. Bruce McDonald said he could vote either way on the proposal, but agreed that Copeland had a good point about whether the event is germane to Delview Park or not.

“Maybe it would be more appropriate to put it at the new North Delta [Secondary] track, for example, or maybe at the rec centre in North Delta, and I think we should have some rationale for that,” McDonald said.

“I’m very reluctant, almost always, to delay anything moving forward because sometimes it just freeze-forms wherever it is, but I think in this case we should have some idea of where we go and how we do this, and I think that gives staff some indication of what we’d like to see done too.”

Mayor George Harvie said that it’s important Delta recognize the tragedy of the Komagata Maru, but “as a council we need to do it right.”

“We want to assure the [Descendents of the Komagata Maru Society] that we’re very serious about doing this,” he said.

Harvie said he had checked with Delta’s director of parks, recreation and culture, Ken Kuntz, that same day and was “a little surprised” to learn that the Douglas J. Husband Discovery Centre doesn’t at present include any mention of the Komagata Maru.

“So I would also like to not look just at locations, but also why isn’t something this important being mentioned also in our virtual museum. For so long the museum was just centred [on] Ladner, and we now have an opportunity to include all of Delta. We need to ensure that when those doors open that North Delta is very well part of the displays and the virtual displays that are there,” Harvie said.

Council voted 5-1 to refer the proposal back to staff for discussion, with Kruger the lone vote in opposition.

— with files from Lauren Collins

SEE ALSO: North Delta history: South Asian settlement throughout the 20th century



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