- Komagata Maru Events Timeline
Queen Victoria invited her loyal Indian troops to attend her Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London. These soldiers crossed Canada on their way home, and returned to India with stories of a land waiting to be settled by British subjects such as themselves.
The first Sikhs had come to Canada in 1902 as part of a Hong Kong military contingent travelling in celebration of the coronation of Edward VII. Some returned to Canada, establishing themselves in British Columbia. More than 5,000 South Asians, over 90% of them Sikhs, came to British Columbia before their immigration was banned in 1908. From then on, the population gradually dwindled to about 2,000 through out-migration. Almost all of those remaining were Sikhs.
Punjabi immigrants began arriving in British Columbia, most had army connections from being stationed in the colonies. Later immigrants often came from agricultural backgrounds. By the end of the year approximately thirty South Asian men had arrived.
The number of South Asians in Vancouver numbered around 100-150, with the majority of them being Sikhs. By the end of 1905 many of these first immigrants sent letters home in India extolling the potential for immigration to Vancouver. These letters played a large role in the sudden rise in south Asian immigrants in the following years.
In March 1906, the Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver was formed and the foundation stone of the first Gurdwara was laid. There were approximately 300 Indians in BC and they were in demand as hard working laborers. The average wage for Indians had increased from $1.50 to $2 a day. From that time onward immigration began to increase rapidly and by end of the year there were many more immigrants in the province. Their reputation as workers did not come without opposition. Many Caucasians looked at it as an invasion to their own economic territory.
The Hindustani Association was founded in Vancouver by Das Taraknath, an educated Bengali nationalist in 1907. The Hindustani Association at first was devoted to improving the lives of Indians in Canada, but later it turned to overthrowing British Rule in India. Read more
By the end of 1908 the South Asian community is at a low point being stripped of any political rights. Immigration has been decisively crippled and economically the racial lines have been firmly set, with South Asians being condemned to work blue collar jobs for low wages. Such racist attitudes will remain for a long time, and South Asians will suffer from this subordination over the next ten years.
The Immigration Act is overhauled including the Continuous Journey Regulation. The amended act now gave sweeping powers to the government to exclude people explicitly on the basis of race. These amendments were aimed at stopping the tide of South Asian immigrants.
The Panama Maru arrives in BC on October 17, 1913 carrying 56 South Asians to Canada. Most of the passengers have not lived in Canada previously, but many claim that they have, producing money order receipts, time cards, etc. to substantiate their claims. Immigration authorities allow 17 to land (those who could be physically recognized to have been in Canada before). But the authorities detain 39 of the 56 passengers. Shortly thereafter, passengers’ stories change and immigration authorities are told that people in Hong Kong had provided the receipts and tutored these passengers about what to say.
Gurdit Singh, a successful railway labour contractor and rubber plantation owner in Malaysia, invests in the Japanese ship, the Komagata Maru. He is hoping to achieve success as had been realized with the Panama Maru in 1913. He also wants to challenge the Continuous Journey regulation. Singh uses economic reasons to justify his journey to Vancouver explaining that this first voyage would be an experiment as a commercial venture. Read more
On the morning of January 11, 1915, hundreds of South Asians wait outside the penitentiary to receive Bhai Mewa Singh’s body for cremation. He is cremated at the Fraser Mills where a large number of Sikh men work.