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Request made for City of White Rock to honour Komagata Maru passengers

A Surrey resident and grandson of a Komagata Maru passenger has asked the City of White Rock to honour the historic ship – and acknowledge a dark moment in the province’s history – in some way.

On Jan. 6, Raj Singh Toor – a member of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society – spoke at a meeting of the city’s History and Heritage Advisory Committee, requesting that the city rename “a street or park or civic asset in White Rock” to honour the passengers who were aboard the ship more than 100 years ago.

The 1914 incident involved the Japanese ship Komagata Maru, on which 376 people from Punjab province in British India – including Toor’s grandfather, Baba Puran Singh Janetpura – attempted to immigrate to Canada, landing in Vancouver in May of that year.

Most were denied entry and, for 63 days, passengers stayed on the ship with dwindling food and water, and were eventually forced to return to India.

Within hours of disembarking, 20 of the passengers were killed in an encounter with British Indian police and troops.

Toor explained that years later, in 1968, his grandfather had an opportunity to come to Canada again – this time sponsored by Toor’s uncle – but he refused, saying “that he had a painful, bitter memory of Canada.”

“It’s going to be a great tribute to those Komagata Maru passengers who suffered a lot during the tragedy,” Toor told Peace Arch News via email Friday morning, adding that he was confident the city will choose to honour the event in some way.

White Rock Coun. David Chesney – a member of the history and heritage committee – told PAN that while the city did receive a request from Toor to acknowledge the Komagata Maru “no decision has been made.”

Last week, Abbotsford city council voted unanimously to ask city staff to prepare a report looking into a request to rename a city street in memory of the ship’s victims. Toor had first approached the city two years ago, and has “had ongoing communication” requesting that a street or park be renamed.

Toor has also had similar communication with Delta; last December, city council voted to install two signs recognizing the tragedy. And earlier this week, New Westminster council announced – again at the behest of Toor – that it would rename the city’s ferry docks in memory of those aboard the Komagata Maru.

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Nick Greenizan

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