The decision to have “Komagata Maru Way” added as a commemorative street name to 75A Avenue (120 Street to 121A Street) was made during last night’s council meeting.
Some 376 passengers, mostly from Punjab, India, were aboard the Komagata Maru ship when it arrived in Vancouver in May 1914.
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But the public was opposed to the passengers’ immigration. After two months of waiting, the ship was forced to sail back to India, where 19 passengers were shot and killed after disembarking, while others were sent to prison.
In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a formal apology for the Komagata Maru incident, exactly 102 years after the tragedy took place.
Raj Singh Toor, the vice-president of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, first brought the issue forward to the Surrey Heritage Advisory Commission earlier this year. Toor’s grandfather was one of the passengers on the ship.
Toor and the Descendants of the Komagata Maru delegation requested the commemorative renaming in Surrey “due to its large South Asian population.”
Along with the street renaming, a heritage storyboard that will provide “an overview of the Komagata Maru incident” at R.A. Nicholson Park.
Some councillors expressed concern with how the recommendation was handled.
“While I do support this initiative, I do it with a bit of trepidation,” said Councillor Brenda Locke.
“I do not believe there was proper stakeholder consultation and that we are rushing this project.”
Locke said she isn’t “confident that naming a one-block street at the back of a strip mall meant for local traffic only will have the intended impact.”
I certainly do not believe that this street naming or storyboard is adequate to acknowledge the Komagata Maru tragedy. Nor to acknowledge the contribution of the South Asian community in Surrey. I dearly hope we can add to this,” she said.
Councillor Steven Pettigrew did not support the decision because he felt it did not follow the city’s established commemorative street naming policy.
“We need to have rules and things that guide our city and if we don’t we’re just sort of making things up sometimes,” he said.
“So, I’m looking at what are the concerns. The concerns with this is that it does not fit with the city’s established commemorative policy.”
Pettigrew said that the street renaming decision sets a precedent “for other groups to come forward” and contest the city’s policy.
‘It was a terrible, terrible thing that happened … but I’m going to have to go with the policies we have in place and I will not be supporting this naming of the street because of the existing policy that’s in place.”