Century of Change
Speach By Harbhajan Gill at UBC
I very much appreciate the honor and privilege to be here as one of your panelists for “Century of change"
Professor Patricia Roy, Lisa Mar and Midge Ayukawa have given me an opportunity to learn from the past experiences of our ancestors from the pacific who have made our life much easier in Canada today.
All the difficulties our forefathers suffered in the late 1800 and early 1900 have been shared with you.
I am going to focus on the early settlement of Punjabis in Canada and The Komagata Maru incident.
The first settlement of Punjabis in Canada was in 1880's in Golden B.C.
It is believed that the Columbia River was the passage these early settlers used to come to Golden.
Main source of employment for them was Columbia River Lumber Mill. A Temple was built in 1890, and provided food, accommodations and a place to meet with friends. Golden was one of the many Communities that were home to 5079 Punjabis of those 2124 came in 1906 and another 2623 came in 1907-1908.
Most of the Sikhs moved away from Golden, when the mill had to be closed due to a massive forest fire in 1927.
In 1897 some Sikhs who were celebrating Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, on their way back to India, they traveled through Canada and told the farmers and other Army members that Canada 's farm land is just like in Punjab and encouraged them to come to Canada.
In early 1900's the Punjabis (mostly Sikhs) started arriving in Canada, they were young, single and came to work in the logging, farming and railway industries of British Columbia.
Their arrival, which coincided with the recession, inflamed anti Asian feeling in the Province.
In 1908 the federal Government severely restricted immigration from India; as a result, the Canadian Sikh community was composed primarily of men for many years. Immigration regulations were loosened in 1919 to allow some family reunification.
I do not want to repeat what already has been said about the years
1907 Anti-Asian Riots in Vancouver
1947 Canadian Citizenship Act
1967 Canadian Immigration Act
1997 Reversion of Hong Kong's Sovereignty
I just want to say a few things about the Anti- Asian riots of Sept.7, 1907 and how the Punjabi community was part of this.
On Sept.4, 1907 in Bellingham, Washington USA Over 700 Punjabis were working in the area. They were employed by the local lumber mills, On Sept. 4th the Anti-Asian riots started in the USA and most of the Punjabis were beaten and forced out of their houses, they had no choice but left the town and scattered away from trouble areas, some moved to California and Oregon and some crossed the border and came to Canada. A few days later the Anti-Asian riots took place in Vancouver.
The Canadian Government passed two orders-in- council in 1910; the first declared that all Asians were now obliged to have $200 on their person when they landed. The second order -in -Council was a regulation designed to stop the East Indians. The regulation specified that East Indian immigrants had to travel directly to Canada from India: however, there were no shipping lines operating between the two countries in those days. The Hindus were free to come but only on a 'through' ship, and there was no 'through' ships. In 1914 The Komagata Maru was an outright challenge to these exclusionist laws.
The Komagata Maru incident that took place in British Columbia in 1914 belongs to a racist and narrow minded past that Canadians have not left far behind.
In the Spring of 1914 a group of Sikhs led by Baba Gurdit Singh, a wealthy Sikh businessman from Singapore, chartered the steamer, the Komagata Maru,to carry Indian emigrants to Canada.
They named the steamer Guru Nanak Jahaz after the first Sikh Guru. The journey started on April 4, 1914 from Hong Kong with 165 Sikhs to British Columbia, on the way the Guru Nanak Jahaz docked at Shanghai and additional 111 passengers were on board. Another stop at Moji, Japan with 86 passengers and final stop at Yokohama where 11 more passengers got on board.
The total number of passengers reaches 376, including 24 Muslims, 12 Hindus and 340 Sikhs.
May 23, 1914 The Komagata Maru arrives in Vancouver and anchors near Burrard Inlet, the day before the arrival The Premier of British Columbia Sir Richard Mc Bride made a statement “To admit Orientals in large numbers would mean in the end the extinction of the white people. And we always have in mind the necessity of keeping this a white man's country”.
May 24- Edward Bird, Barrister who was hired by a committee of 15 local Indians to represent passengers of Komagata Maru, asks Immigration Inspector Malcolm Reid for permission to go to the ship and talk to his client Gurdit Singh, The request was denied.
May 30- A meeting was held to discuss the Komagata Maru, over 500 and about 20 white, including reporters and immigration staff attended.$5000 is raised and another $66,000 pledged in the support of passengers.
Gurdit Singh and passengers commence a hunger strike to protest their treatment and send messages to the King of England and the Governor General of Canada, saying "no provisions.... passengers starving.... kept prisoners"
June 11- Shore committee sends several tones of food to the passengers,
Reid adjourns the Board of Inquiry with the excuse that the staff needs to attend to regular office work.
June 21--- The Khalsa Diwan Society and United India League call another meeting in support of Komagata Maru. Over 400 Indians and 125 whites attend the meeting.
June 23... A meeting held by opponents of the Komagata Maru. Harry Stevens M.P. was the main speaker.
A delegation of Sikhs is refused entry. Some hustled away by police.
June 24 ... Reid wires Ottawa to ask permission to put the passengers of Komagata Maru forcibly on the S.S. Empress of India sailing at 11am the next day. The Prime Minister Rober L.Borden rejects the plan.
June 25---Passengers of the ship wire the Governor General: "Many requests to Immigration Department for water but useless, better order to shoot us than this miserable treatment.
July 6--- The court of Appeal upholds the Anti-Asian Order -in-Council. A test case of one of the passengers Munshi Singh was dismissed
July 17.... Clearance and deportation papers are delivered to the passengers.
July 18... Reid decides to use force to expel the Komagata Maru at 1:15 AM
July 19th ... The Sea Lion, with 160 Police and Immigration officers, attempt to board the Komagata Maru.
The passengers resist and the Sea Lion retreats.
2:00 AM MP Steven wires the Prime Minister Borden “The Hindus on ship apparently desperately revolutionary and determined to defy law. Absolutely necessary that strong stand be taken and would urge that Rainbow or some Naval Department vassal be detailed to take charge of situation."
Prime Minister Borden made the Rainbow available.
July 21... 7AM 204 militia prepare to board the Komagata Maru.
8:15.... The Rainbow a naval ship, anchor a few hundred yards southwest of the Komagata Maru.
10AM.... The guns of the Rainbow are uncovered. Thousand of people gather on shore to watch the events.
5PM An agreement is reached between officials and passengers. Government agrees to send provisions to the ship.
In return, the Komagata Maru agrees to return to India.
July 23.... 5:10AM The anchor of the Komagata Maru is raised.
The Komagata Maru leaves Vancouver Harbour.
The Rainbow and Sea Lion follow the Komaqgata Maru out to the sea.
September 29,1914... 11AM The Komagata Maru reaches the town of Budge Budge 27 Kilometers from Calcutta and are forced to disembark the ship......Officials call additional police and military to enforce the order... passengers wanted to go to Calcutta....... riots started.
Of the 321 passengers on the ship at Budge Budge, 62 leave for Punjab 20 passengers died..one drowned ... ..9 hospitalized ... 202 jailed and 28 remain unaccounted for.
Number of passengers, including Gurdit Singh escape
As I speak today The Canadian Government has still not put a closure on this unfortunate incident. The South Asian community has survived and prospered in Canada, despite the prejudice and hostility that the Komagata Maru story typifies. The community has emerged in the past few decades with a positive and confident outlook.
The Komagata Maru remains a powerful symbol for South Asians, one that other Canadians should understand because it is part of Canadian history.
Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation's mission is to preserve the Historical events such as I briefly focused on tonight.
Once again I would like to thank the faculty of Arts. UBC and Henry Yu for inviting me to share this very important part of Canadian History
Harbhajan S. Gill
Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation.