A new mural on the back of a federal building in Vancouver depicting the 1914 Komagata Maru incident is meant to honour the victims of the tragedy – as well as their descendants – and recognize the support provided to the passengers by the local Indigenous Peoples.
- Trudeau apologizes for Komagata Maru incident
- Surrey city council approves renaming street to commemorate Komagata Maru incident
Officially unveiled on Friday morning and located in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, the mural illustrates the account of the Musqueam people who canoed across Burrard Inlet to provide food and assistance to the stranded passengers onboard, after they were denied entry to Canada.
It was created as part of the 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival.
During the unveiling, Debra Sparrow of the Musqueam First Nation said she “holds her hands up to the artists here, who have spent the last few weeks patiently creating the identity that reflects who they are.”
Every brush stroke, she said, “is a reflection of each our histories; two cultures sharing who we are.”
The mural was jointly created by artist Keerat Kaur and artists Alicia Point and Cyler Sparrow-Point.
“The work that centres around my community and my ancestors is most important to me, because it really is our ancestors’ blood that runs through our veins – not just literally, but in terms of the most beautiful things that we carry – which is because of them,” said Kaur on Friday.
She gave an overview of the mural designs on both of the towers, as a whole – as well as the individual elements contained within them.
On the front of the right tower, she said, the design is divided it into three portions which describe the “perspectives of the story.”
At the top, she said, “we see a contextual plan of where the ship was docked, and in each portion you actually see connections back to the Musqueam community, and their aid, during the ship’s docking,” she said. “You also see orca whales – which are actually believed to be the ancestors of the Musqueam People – circling the ship as a sign of protection.”
The second part of the scene, she said, depicts the perspective of those on the ship itself: “a view of the Pacific Northwest that they were coming to for promise and abundance.”
The third part, she said, “shows the perspective of what the people on the ship carried with them.”
The pattern on the side of the tower, “speaks not only to the beauty of the people that were on the ship… it also speaks to the pattern work in Musqueam art.”
The figure at the top of the mural on the left tower “is the sky personified, and it’s a sign to the future, and it’s a sign of hope.”
This design she said, “is a way of speaking to not only the intense pain of the story, but also the eventual triumphs of the community that was involved in the episode.”
Alicia Point also spoke about her and Cyler’s artwork in the middle of the towers, as part of the overall mural.
“We named it Coming Together – together as cultures,” she said. “We included the Thunderbird – known to our people as a protector and keeper that holds our past and futures.”
Point said she is “proud to have had this opportunity to express our creativity.”
Friday’s unveiling wasn’t just about the addition of a mural, though. It was also about the removal of a name on the federal building: Harry Stevens – a Conservative MP in the early part of the 20th century, and who was “actively involved in the Komagata Maru incident,” according to a government release.
As a result of discriminatory laws at the time, a total of 376 passengers of Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu origin were stranded onboard the Komagata Maru ship for 62 days and unable to set foot on Canadian soil, after the ship was turned away from Vancouver’s shores in 1914.
In the end, only a few passengers on the ship were permitted to land in Canada. The rest were forced to remain in port before being turned around. Many others were jailed. Upon arrival in Calcutta, 19 of the passengers aboard the Komagata Maru were shot dead.
Speaking on Friday, Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Saijan called the incident “a tragedy in the truest sense of the word.”
Canada, he said, ” is a different nation today, but we can never forget what happened here, so we can learn for it and ensure it never happens again.”
Removing the building’s name and installing the mural “will serve as that constant reminder,” and “signify our commitment to moving forward – to embracing inclusion and diversity in everything we do,” he added.
Raj Singh Toor, vice-president of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, echoed Saijan’s sentiments.
“Removing Harry Stevens’ name from the federal building … will help educate the community and remind us of how unique Canada’s diverse makeup is,” he said.
And while the removal “can’t right past wrongs,” Toor said he hopes it will “help to connect Canadians with their past, in order to build a more peaceful and tolerant tomorrow.”
The name of the building will revert back to simply its physical street address – “125 East 10th Avenue” – and there are no plans to rename the building at this time.
In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially apologized for the Komagata Maru incident.
Daily Hive is a proud media sponsor of the 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival