ONE hundred years ago the Komagata Maru arrived off the coast of Vancouver to challenge Canada’s immigration laws. The ship, with its nearly 400 Punjabi passengers, remained for two months and those on board were harassed by immigration officials and endured extreme physical hardship, until finally they were forced to return to India.
Hugh Johnston, one of Canada’s foremost experts on this issue, and author of the just released The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar spoke at the Vancouver Maritime Museum on Thursday on “Stories from the Komagata Maru.”
The Voyage of the Komagata Maru is an extensive revision, reappraisal, and expansion of Johnston’s authoritative history of the Komagata Maru incident, first published in 1989. This updated edition draws in new research – exploring the legal issues surrounding the incident and delving deeper into the motives of the passengers and their leaders and supporters – and revisits the previous edition’s assessments in light of insight gained over the intervening decades.
As Johnston states, ‘this is not just a re-release, but virtually a new book. How many people get a chance to do a major overhaul on a book thirty-five years after it first appeared and nearly forty years after they started the research … my perspective has changed over the decades … so has the Sikh community.’
Now expanded by more than 50 percent, The Voyage of the Komagata Maru is still the only comprehensive historical account of the Komagata Maru incident – a story of immigration, empire, politics, and human rights, which Canadians increasingly recognize as a critical moment in this country’s history.
“Every Canadian should read this book. It captures a very important part of Canadian history and a pivotal incident that occurred in 1914…my grandfather was in Canada when the Komagata Maru arrived, and he would be proud of the way that Hugh Johnston has presented this event,” says former federal minister Herb Dhaliwal.
Johnston is a professor emeritus in history at Simon Fraser University. Among his publications are two other books on Punjabis in Canada, Jewels of the Qila: The Remarkable Story of an Indo-Canadian Family (2012) and The Four Quarters of the Night: The Life Journey of an Emigrant Sikh (1995).
The Vancouver Maritime Museum’s exhibit The Komagata Maru: Challenging Injustice is up until June 8.