Komagata Maru incident: Harry Stevens’ name removed from federal public building in Vancouver

L-R: Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence; Alicia Point and Cyler Sparrow-Point, mural artists, Musqueam First Nation; Keerat Kaur, mural artist; Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility; Raj Singh Toor, Vice-President and spokesperson for the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society; Randeep Sarai, MP, Surrey Centre; and Sukh Dhaliwal, MP, Surrey-Newton.
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CARLA Qualtrough, federal Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, and Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence and MP for Vancouver South, on Friday announced the removal of Harry Stevens’ name from a federal public building in Vancouver. Stevens was a central figure in the denial of the passenger’s entry into Canada during the Komagata Maru episode.

They were joined by other local MPs and members of the South Asian and First Nations communities. At the same time, the ministers also recognized the newly painted mural on the building, located at 125 10th Avenue East, as a symbolic gesture of reconciliation to victims of the Komagata Maru incident, and as a way of paying tribute to the kindness of spirit demonstrated by the nearby Indigenous peoples.

The new mural, painted as part of the 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival, depicts the Komagata Maru incident of 1914. It honours the victims of the tragedy and their descendants, and recognizes the generosity of the local Indigenous Peoples in providing food and water to the passengers. The mural was a joint effort by artist Keerat Kaur, who painted the ship, and artists Alicia Point and Cyler Sparrow-Point, who painted the Indigenous art. 

The South Asian Canadian Historical Association, Indian Summer Festival, the Surrey Art Gallery and Vancouver Mural Festival partnered on the project and local historians, storytellers and scholars advised the artists on the facts and context of the event.

Vancouver Mural Festival receives funding through the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Grants program and this helped support the involvement of a local Indigenous artist in the project.

The mural can be viewed as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival which takes place this weekend. Over the last four years, the City has supported the Festival with more than $500,000 of grants and in-kind support.

A permanent monument commemorating the Komagata Maru Episode was unveiled in Coal Harbour in 2012 and updated in 2016 to include a plaque which recognizes the incident as an event of national historic significance.

“The Government of Canada believes in the values enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including multiculturalism. We see diversity as a source of strength and work to break down barriers so that all have a real and fair chance at success. Today, some of my parliamentary colleagues from British Columbia and I come together to commit ourselves and our government to positive action and recognize past wrongs. We use this as an opportunity to honour and pay respect to the victims of the Komagata Maru incident, and to the Indigenous Peoples who supported them during their stay in the Vancouver harbour,” said Qualtrough.

“Today is about acknowledging our history, learning from it and vowing to never let the wrongs of the past happen again. The Komagata Maru incident was a tragedy in the truest sense of the word. Canada is a different nation today, but we can never forget what happened here, so we can learn from it and ensure it never happens again. Removing the name from this federal building and installing the important mural here will serve as that constant reminder. These actions by the government also signify our commitment to moving forward, to embracing inclusion and celebrating diversity in everything we do. The Government of Canada will continue to do just that, and that’s something all Canadians can take pride in,” said Sajjan.

“Removing Harry Stevens’ name from the federal building in Vancouver will help educate the community and remind us of how unique Canada’s diverse makeup is. We are all richer when we remember how special it is to have so many different ethnic communities living together. While it can’t right past wrongs, I hope that it will help to connect Canadians with their past in order to build a more peaceful and tolerant tomorrow,” said Toor.

Quick Facts:

* In 2016, the Prime Minister apologized for the Komagata Maru incident in the House of Commons.
* Henry Herbert (Harry) Stevens was a Canadian politician who was actively involved in the Komagata Maru incident.
* The name of the building will revert back to its street address of “125 10th Avenue East.” There are no plans to rename the building at this time.