Canada Place Way could gain second name of Komagata Maru Place

May 23 2023, 8:16 pm

One of Vancouver’s most iconic and busiest streets for tourists and pedestrian traffic is being eyed for a secondary name to recognize the Komagata Maru incident over a century ago.

Next week in a public meeting, Vancouver City Council will consider City of Vancouver staff’s recommendation to tack on “Komagata Maru Place” to Canada Place Way.

Canada Place Way is the two-city block-long roadway between Burrard and Thurlow streets, where the Canada Place cruise ship terminal and the Vancouver Convention Centre are located.

The incident occurred in 1914 when the Komagata Maru, a Japanese ship, brought hundreds of immigrants from India to Vancouver. All of the passengers were British subjects, but they were prevented from disembarking due to discrimination by the provincial and municipal governments, and the racist attitudes of the general public.

The ship, carrying over 300 passengers of Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu origin, was forced to return to India after two months waiting in Coal Harbour. Upon returning to India, at least 19 passengers were killed by British soldiers, and many others were imprisoned.

May 23, 1914 is considered the remembrance day for the incident, when the ship first arrived into Vancouver’s local waters.

Over the past two decades, the federal, provincial, and municipal governments have made various formal apologies for their historic role in the Komagata Maru incident and created initiatives to allow communities to acknowledge and honour the incident and its victims.

komagata maru memorial vancouver

Komagata Maru Memorial at Harbour Green Park in downtown Vancouver. (Canadian Society of Landscape Architects)

komagata maru memorial vancouver

Komagata Maru Memorial at Harbour Green Park in downtown Vancouver. (Canadian Society of Landscape Architects)

In 2012, a large memorial of steel panels representing the hull of the ship was installed on the seawall at the eastern end of Harbour Green Park — immediately west of Vancouver Convention Centre’s West Building. The names of the Komagata Maru’s passengers are inscribed onto the monument’s panels, and a glass panel provides a historical explanation to visitors. The memorial has been vandalized over several occasions, with police investigating the instances as a possible hate crime.

The memorial, funded by the federal government, is strategically located near where the incident took place.

For the same proximity reasons, City staff are now recommending a secondary name for Canada Place Way to acknowledge the incident.

“The street Canada Place offers a direct view of Vancouver’s Harbour where the Komagata Maru ship was held for over two months with its passengers forced to stay onboard and where large crowds would gather daily to get a glimpse of the ship,” state City staff.

“It would offer residents and tourists arriving to Vancouver on foot, transit and by ship an opportunity to reflect as they learn more about this historic incident from the secondary name signage and from the nearby monument in Harbour Green Park.”

canada place way vancouver

Canada Place Way in downtown Vancouver. (City of Vancouver)

According to City staff, there is strong support from the South Asian community for naming Canada Place Way over other locations contemplated, including along Main Street between Marine Drive and 49th Avenue and West 2nd Avenue.

The West 2nd Avenue location at 1866 West 2nd Avenue in Kitsilano is the alternative option, as this site was where the local South Asian community mobilized to support the passengers by raising funds and providing legal services, food, and water. This Gurdwara location became one of the first community-owned spaces for South Asians through the late 1960s as a gathering place for culture, politics, and civic education.

If City Council approves the additional secondary name of Komagata Maru Place for Canada Place Way, City staff will implement “a culturally appropriate design for the sign” and create educational materials ahead of an unveiling ceremony in late 2023. They will also look into potential ways to recognize the cultural and historical significance of the West 2nd Avenue site and assist the Khalsa Diwan Society with identifying potential funding sources for the Komagata Maru Museum at their temple at 8000 Ross Street in South Vancouver.

City staff’s recommendation stems from City Council’s unanimous approval in March 2019 of then-COPE city councillor Jean Swanson’s member motion to fast-track the naming of a civic asset in downtown Vancouver near the Burrard Inlet waterfront after the Komagata Maru.

In July 2022, the previous makeup of City Council approved City staff’s report on the historical discrimination against people of South Asian Canadian descent, including the direction to identify a secondary naming for a street after the Komagata Maru.

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