Vancouver Feature: Sikh Migrants Stalled in Harbour

The following article is a feature from our Vancouver Feature series. Past features are not updated.

The steamer Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver harbour in May 1914 with more than 370 passengers from India on board. They were looking to begin new lives in Canada, but the authorities said No. The standoff lasted two months and ended in mayhem and murder.
Le pont surpeuplé du Komagata Maru.
Sikh Migrants

Major Matthews Collection, Vancouver City Archives LGN 1032.

Looking west to Brockton Point in Stanley Park from Canada Place

The Komagata Maru dropped anchor in Vancouver’s harbour on May 23, 1914. Most of its passengers were Sikhs who wished to immigrate to Canada. But British Columbia was discouraging the arrival of newcomers from Asia. There was a law in place requiring new arrivals from India to take direct passage to Canada. But this was impossible; there was no scheduled steamer travelling non-stop from India. It was on this technicality that immigration authorities refused to allow the passengers aboard the Komagata Maru to land.

Conditions on board the ship got worse as supplies of food and water dwindled. Tensions in the city rose. At one point a boarding party of armed police tried to storm the ship but the passengers drove them off. Finally the federal government called in the naval cruiser Rainbow, bristling with heavy artillery, to escort the Komagata Maru out to sea.

When the ship arrived back in Calcutta British officials attempted to arrest some of the Sikh leaders, shots were fired and 20 people died. In October, in Vancouver, a member of the local Sikh community shot and killed an undercover immigration officer for the role he was believed to have played in the episode.

Both the federal government and the British Columbia legislature apologized for the Komagata Maru incident.

Help students and educators this school year!

The Canadian Encyclopedia is a project of Historica Canada, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization devoted to teaching Canadians more about our shared country. Last school year, over 13 million people used The Canadian Encyclopedia as a trusted resource. Nearly 5 million of those users were students and teachers. Please donate today to help even more Canadians access free, impartial, fact-checked, regularly updated information about Canada’s history and culture in both official languages. All donations above $3 will receive a tax receipt.