Chinmoy Banerjee

Komagatgata Maru History Preserved for the Community

Harbhajan Gill and the Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation deserve the thanks of the South Asian community for their purchase of the Sea Lion, the only remaining physical link to the most significant incident in the history of our community.

At a ceremony on the morning of May 14 held on board the Sea Lion, moored at the docks in North Vancouver, Harbhajan Gill and Rex Kary of Living Planet Experiences Unlimited, who owned the ship, announced the transfer of the historical tug boat to the Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation.

Living Planet had bought the ship after it had keeled over off the coast of northern British Columbia and had refitted it and put it into service in 2001. They received a number of lucrative offers when they put it on the market but chose to sell it for the lower price of $752, 000 to Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation because this offered them the best guarantee that the ship would be maintained and preserved for history. We should be grateful to Rex Kary that he put his love of the ship and his respect for the history of our community and Canada above profit.

The price paid for the ship is symbolic: it is $2000.00 for each of the 376 passengers who arrived in Vancouver on board Komagata Maru in 1914.

In 1910 the Canadian Government had instituted the racist “Continuous Journey” clause in its immigration law to prevent Indians, who as British subjects had the right of free movement within the Empire, from coming to Canada. The clause required immigrants to arrive in Canada in one continuous journey from their place of origin at the same time that the government stopped any direct travel between India and Canada.

Baba Gurdit Singh challenged this racist exclusion in 1914 by leasing the Japanese ship, Komagata Maru, and selling tickets for Vancouver to Indians who had been living in Hong Kong. When the ship, carrying 376 passengers arrived in Vancouver, it was not allowed to dock.

For two months the passengers suffered hunger and thirst on the ship while a shore committee formed at the Vancouver Gurudwara rallied the community in their support.
On July 23, 1914, two months after the ship arrived in Vancouver, Komagata Maru was forced by the Canadian navy at gun point to return to India.

The Sea Lion, the most powerful tug boat on the West Coast at the time, was used by the RCMP unsuccessfully to attempt boarding the Komagata Maru. Later the Sea Lion was again used unsuccessfully to tow the ship out to sea, a job that had to be performed by a navy gun boat. Of these three ships only t he Sea Lion remains and will become part of the Maritime Museum.