ONE hundred years ago, on May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship, arrived in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet with 376 passengers, all British subjects, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, India. Under the era’s exclusionary immigration policies, the passengers were denied entry, and the ship was forced to return to India. In connection with Asian Heritage Month, Canada Post on Tuesday issued a new stamp marking the centennial of this event, while also recognizing the strides Canada has made toward creating a more tolerant and diverse society.
The stamp, available in all post offices and online, features an artistic rendition of images from a small collection of archive photos, shot on board and during the voyage. Two collectible Official First Day Covers are also available.
“This stamp commemorates an important – yet tragic ‒ moment in our history. Remembering this tragedy brings to light how Canada has transformed into a diverse and welcoming country,” said Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport and responsible for Canada Post.
“Canada Post’s stamps tell the stories of our history. But we don’t just commemorate our heroic events; our nation is also shaped by the failures of its past. Events like Komagata Maru have helped encourage Canadians to make it a priority to build a more free and welcoming society that today doesn’t just tolerate diversity, but thrives by it,” said Deepak Chopra, President and CEO, Canada Post.
The Komagata Maru’s arrival challenged a 1908 regulation that denied entry to immigrants unless they had $200 and had made a “continuous journey” from their home country ‒ conditions that were nearly impossible for immigrants from India to meet. Under the policy, only 20 returning residents, and the ship’s doctor and his family were allowed to enter. The remaining passengers were confined to the ship for two months, after which the ship was forced to sail back to India. Upon arriving in India, many on board were viewed as political agitators. Twenty passengers were shot after disembarking while many others were imprisoned.
The restrictive immigration policies that the passengers challenged were not repealed for 33 years.