Posts tagged "canada"

Brown Canada Showcase
Sharing Our Stories: Creating New Legacies

Wednesday June 27th, 2012
5:30–9:00 p.m
Grace Church
41 Britain Street, Toronto (east of Queen station)

Dinner served from 5:30-6:30 pm.
Program starts at 6:30 pm, sharp.

This is a Free Event, but space is limited; please RSVP before June 25th  by registering your free ticket at eventbrite. Questions? Email or  call 416 932 1359 x14.

CASSA’s Brown Canada team proudly invites you to our project’s Showcase, an Informative and entertaining event featuring:

· The premiere of the original play “Oh Canada, Oh Komagata Maru!” 
· A screening of the Brown Canada DVD
· The “Our Stories, Our Histories” South Asian history exhibit
· An interactive discussion about Racialized & Indigenous histories
· A free resource booklet on South Asian histories in Canada

Visit for more info & to share your story online!

The Brown Canada Theatre Project will be presenting “Oh Canada, Oh Komagata Maru!” a series of vignettes written and directed by Alia Somani. “Oh Canada, Oh Komagata Maru!” is about one of the least known yet most significant episodes in the history of Canada. What is called the Komagata Maru incident took place in 1914, when a group of 376 Punjabi migrants aboard a Japanese ship – the Komagata Maru – was turned away from Canada’s western seaboard and refused entry into the country. The Komagata Maru incident may have occurred almost 100 years ago, but it has not been forgotten. Instead it continues to haunt us, to reverberate in our nation’s consciousness. In fact, in 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood up in Bear Creek Park and declared that on behalf of Canada, he was sorry for the events of 1914. “Oh Canada, Oh Komagata Maru!” explores, among other things, this apology; it considers how much of our past is remembered and how much still remains buried; and most importantly, it asks us to relive the experiences of those who traveled to Canada in 1914 in search of a better life, and a better future.




Facebook event



376: number of passengers on Komagata Maru when it arrives in Vancouver Harbour 

   12: number of Hindus aboard Komagata Maru 
   24: number of Muslims aboard Komagata Maru 
   340: number of Sikhs aboard Komagata Maru 

90: number of people declared medically unfit to land 

20-24: number of people who claimed to have Canadian domicile and were allowed to disembark

$150,000: Amount of damages claimed by Gurdit Singh for Canada not allowing him to land and sell coal stored aboard Komagata Maru

15: Number of core members of Sshore Ccommittee, local South Asians who were mobilizing to support the Komagata Maru passengers 

500: ??Unknown: number of local South Asians present at meetings to support Komagata Maru passengers, held at the the Khalsa Diwan Society at Gurdwara 

$5,000: amount collected at once at first meeting at Gurdwara by local South Asians to support Komagata Maru passengers

$17,000: amount collected at future meetings by local South Asians to support Komagata Maru passengers 

150: number of immigration officials and police who attempted to board Komagata Maru on July 17, 1914 

$4,000: value of provisions Canadian government placed on board the Komagata Maru for the return trip 

2: number of months the Komagata Maru stayed in harbour off the coast of Vancouver

2: number of years shore committee struggled legally with government after Komagata Maru was forced to return to Asia

$3,000: further legal expenses of shore committee after Komagata Maru forced to return to Asia

6: number of months Komagata Maru passengers spent aboard 

via Brown Canada Project: Komagata Maru


The Komagata Maru incident involved a number of key players – individuals whose actions played a significant role impacting the lived experience of Komagata Maru passengers. These key players can be viewed within four three main groups:

  • Komagata Maru Passengers
  • Canadian Officials
  • Legal Personnel
  • Shore Committee Members

Each individual’s complete story is not captured here; instead these profiles provide snapshots of each key player, and some context of their lives. For some of these individuals, their profiles have become legacies by the memorialisation efforts of scholars, activists, community members and artists. 

For other individuals involved in the Komagata Maru incident, they remain unnamed or their stories are unknown. For example, little is known about many of the passengers. There is not enough information about the hundreds of South Asians already living in the Vancouver area who were passionate about supporting the Komagata Maru passengers. There is scarce documentation of the white allies who attended ing community meetings. For those who died upon their return to British occupied India, there must have been so many unanswered questions for their unnamed friends and families. For the 28 individuals who were unaccounted for after the Budge Budge (Baj Baj) incident, some like Gurdit Singh we know a lot about – but for others, where did their lives take them? 

With the intention of this website to invite readers to reflect on the broader impact of the Komagata Maru incident, this section asks you to interrogate how we remember the individual people in communities, how we write (or do not write) their stories.

Komagata Maru Passengers 

This is very short list of some passengers who played key roles in the departure of the Komagata Maru from Hong Kong, and its experience once in Canadian waters.

Gurdit Singh
Gurdit Singh was a successful businessman who decided to charter the Komagata Maru from Hong Kong after meeting with and speaking with other Indians there. Singh (sold tickets up until two days before the Komagata Maru’s departure, and was briefly held by officials for selling illegal tickets for what was deemed an illegal trip). Singh was a nationalist, who believed in an Independent India. At the Baj Baj (Budge Budge) incident, he escaped capture. After remaining a fugitive in India for several years, he finally surrendered after prompting by Mahatma Gandhi (whom he respected deeply) and served a five-year jail term in Punjab. It was after Singh’s prompting did the federal government of newly-independent India erect a plaque at Kolkata (then known as Calcutta) memorializing the Komagata Maru. 

Munshi Singh
Munshi Singh, one of the 376 passengers aboard the Komagata Maru, was selected as the representative for the test case. He was a Sikh farmer from Punjab, someone who was interested in migrating to Canada for the purposes of buying some property and farming. 

Canadian Officials
Government agents very obviously played a heavy role in the Komagata Maru incident. Both Hopkinson and Reid held very strong anti-South Asian views and prior to 1914, both had been actively pushing for exclusionary immigration. For Reid, his daughter felt (in the 1980s) that the way he was remembered was unfair1; for Hopkinson, an often-staged play by Sharon Pollock fictionalized his mixed-race heritage and his surveillance work, which could be described as internalized racism2.

Malcolm Reid 
Malcolm Reid was the Chief Immigration Officer of Vancouver during the Komagata Maru incident. Posted to the position with no experience, his proposals of how to expel the Komagata Maru contradicted even those of the federal government. He was explicit in his anti-Asian sentiments, and was motivated to use whatever force necessary to remove the ship and its passengers. For example, on June 24, 1914, Reid wired Ottawa to ask for permission to have the Komagata Maru passengers forced onto the S.S. Empress of India, which was departing the next day. The answer was no – an appearance in court (through a test case) is how the federal government wanted to proceed.

Martin Burrell 
Martin Burrell was the federal Minister of Agriculture at the time the Komagata Maru was stationed in Burrard Inlet. He became involved at the very end of the two month period, at the urging of Prime Minister Robert Borden. It was Burrell’s letter to Albert Howard McNeill dated July 21, 1914, that seemed to bring forward a compromise. In it, he refers to the Shore Committee and community members who had provided financial support. Burrell said that he would “urge that full and sympathetic consideration be given to those who deserve generous treatment. I must point out, however, that this is conditional on the passengers now on the Komagata Maru adopting a peaceable attitude, refraining from violence, and conforming to the law by giving to the captain control of his ship immediately, and agreeing to peaceably return to the port when they came.”13

William Charles Hopkinson 
William Charles (W.C.) Hopkinson was an immigration inspector at the time of the Komagata Maru. Working for the federal government since 1909, mostly based in British Columbia and working in the US as well, his focus was on the surveillance of Indian political activists. He was fully occupied with the Komagata Maru while it was in Burrard Inlet for two months. After the Komagata Maru was sent back, his role became important in the context of war – he provided information to officials in Canada and British India about Indian agitators on the Pacific coast who were supposedly plotting to return to India to “take up arms against the British while they were at war in Europe”4 Hopkinson was mixed-race (Anglo-Indian), which he both used in his work (he could understand Hindi and Punjabi) and denied outright. In 1914, he was killed by Mewa Singh at the Vancouver Court House. 

Legal Personnel 
In a hostile environment of British Columbia in 1914, two legal professionals took on the case of the Komagata Maru passengers. J. Edward Bird handled the bulk of the case. 

J. Edward Bird, solicitor 
J. Edward Bird was hired by the passengers of the Komagata Maru to represent the passengers as they lodged a legal challenge to the Orders in Council that were prohibiting them from being able to disembark. The government decided to only have one test case, and Bird was assigned the task of preparing his case very quickly. Bird made the argument on behalf of Munshi Singh (the test case) using constitutional terms, arguing that the passengers of the Komagata Maru were entitled to disembark and settle in Canada as British subjects. Unfortunately, the five judges disagreed with him, and the case was lost. Bird was a socialist, and was opposed to the anti-Asian sentiment around him in British Columbia – proving this by creating a space for Indian socialists to gather. 

Albert Howard MacNeill 
Partner to J. Edward Bird, he took over the Komagata Maru case in the latter stages after Bird received a threatening letter and opted to travel out of town. He was an established lawyer in Vancouver, with connections to many powerful individuals. He sent a personal cable to Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden (McNeill was a member of the Conservative Party himself) to encourage him to think about the Komagata Maru situation beyond what he was told by immigration officials (like Reid and Stevens). 

Shore Committee Members 
While the Komagata Maru was forced to stay in Burrard Inlet, South Asian community members in the Vancouver area mobilized to support the passengers. The 15-member group, coming together initially at the Khalsa Diwan Society, was called the Shore Committee. The Shore Committee raised awareness, raised funds, spoke out about the exclusion, and was heavily involved in retaining legal representation for the Komagata Maru passengers. 

Hussain Rahim 
Hussain Rahim was one of the Shore Committee members, an active member of the Indian community in British Columbia, and the editor of the short-lived English newspaper The Hindustanee. Rahim spoke English, Hindi, Punjabi and Gujrati, and was vocal about his thoughts on the ways the governments of Canada and British Columbia treated Indians. Rahim was instrumental in mobilizing community members to support the passengers of the Komagata Maru. 

Bhag Singh 
Bhag Singh was one of the Shore Committee members, an active member of the Indian community in British Columbia, and Secretary of the Temple Management Committee at the Khalsa Diwan Society gurdwara. His own experience of challenging Canada’s immigration policy in 1911 meant that he was one of the very few Indians in Canada to have been able to be reunified with his wife and child. 

Visit & for more info.


Photo: Leonard Frank, Vancouver Public Library, 6231 (via Komagata Maru)

Passengers, mostly unnamed, on the Komagata Maru. Gurdit Singh can be seen in the white suit with his son and fellow passengers, 1914.


Brown Canada is a community-led  history project to encourage South Asian communities to create and document their histories in Canada creatively, through writing, video, interviews, art, theatre or other means.  Our collective entry point for this project is through the Komagata Maru incident of 1914, when a ship of South Asian people was denied entry into Canada due to restrictive immigration policy known as the continuous journey regulation. Through this project, we will be creating an interactive website, offering educational & creative workshops, producing a short video as well as seeking to tour a short theatre piece to raise awareness of the incident and spark community dialogue within Ontario.

Join us on Facebook:

Check us out on tumblr:

What is needed is a commitment to never again allow such a travesty of justice and transgression against equality to occur. It begins with officially recognizing the rights and cultures of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples by signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But reconciliation also means that, as a Parliament and as a country, we must take action to address the terrible inequality faced by First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities. We can start by restoring the nation-to-nation relationship between the Government of Canada and First Nations, Metis, and the Inuit. Even as we speak here today, thousands of Aboriginal children are without proper schools or clean water, adequate food, their own bed, good health care, safety, comfort, lands and rights. We can no longer throw up our hands and say, “There’s nothing we can do.” Taking reponsibility and working toward reconciliation means saying, “We must act together to solve this.” Let us reverse the horrific and shameful statistics afflicting Aboriginal populations now: the high rates of poverty, suicide, the poor or having no education, overcrowding, crumbling housing, and unsafe drinking water. Let us make sure that all survivors of the residential schools receive the recognition and compensation that is due to them. We must make a serious and collective commitment. All of us together - First Nations, Metis, and Inuit, Canadians who have been here for generations and new Canadians as well - must build a future based on fairness, equality, and respect. This must be our deep collective commitment. Let us all, First Nations, Metis, Inuit, Canadians who have been here for generations, and new Canadians, build a fair, equal, and respectful Canada for all. Meegwetch. Ekosi. Nakurmiik.

Let’s Talk Race

Join the Conversation

Make your own 5 minute video that discusses your experiences with racism.

“Why do you want to talk about racism?” 

Each video should be from 2-5 minutes long. In the vein of “Shadeism” and the “Stuff White People Say to PoC” videos, these videos should function as tools for racism awareness. We encourage you to create a video discussing your lived racialized experiences. It can be in any format; a rap, a song, a poem, a skit or even just you- one on one with the camera, talking about your experiences with racism.

Deadline for submissions  has been extended to June 24 2012. Send your video/ videolinks to The winner will be awarded $500!



Brown Canada Project Seeks Submissions

Brown Canada is a community-led project documenting and creating South Asian histories in Canada. Our collective entry point is through the Komagata Maru incident of 1914. 

This project seeks to create a participatory and comprehensive website, a play on the Komagata Maru, creative and digital storytelling workshops, DVD and resource booklets, and intergenerational and cross-cultural dialogue.

We call all writers, researchers, artists, activists, scholars, educators, community organizers, students, youth, and interested and excited individuals to be a part of this project, and to learn, tell and create South Asian history on our own terms. 

Join us in documenting the history of South Asian immigration to Canada by submitting a post to the Brown Canada website.  Submissions can include scanned photographs, brief essays, poetry, video, art-work and other formats. 


We are looking for submissions from people of various South Asian identities including but not limited to people identifying as Bangladeshi, Indo-Caribbean, Indian, Muslim, Pakistani, Punjabi, Sikh, Tamil,Mixed-Race, LGBTQ, Women, disAbled, Workers, Artists, Cultural workers and Healthcare providers. 

Topics on the submission are diverse ranging from issues such as isolation, discrimination, acculturation, racism, creating ‘community, sexism, homophobia, resistance etc.  Please include a brief bio and your contact information with your submission. 

We are accepting submissions on an ongoing basis and the FIRST round of submissions is due by Monday, April 16th 2012.   We will be posting submissions onto the Brown Canada website as they are received. 

Please Email submissions to Krittika Ghosh at

Anna Mae Aquash was a Mi’kmaq activist, born in 1945, who became a member of the American Indian Mouvement in the early 1970′s. She was murdered in 1975, and the case of her murder is still going on today. The murder of Anna Mae Aquash will never be fully resolved, but she will always be remebered as a powerful woman who fought for the rights of her people. An active American Indian Movement (AIM) member, as well as mother, wife, social worker, and day care teacher, her image is powerful as much for her untimely death as for her life’s work. Found murdered on the Pine Ridge Reservation during a time of tremendous social and political upheaval, she has become a symbol of the movement for Indian rights.

Anna Mae Aquash Quotes:

- “I’m Indian all the way, and always will be. I’m not going to stop fighting until I die, and I hope I’m a good example of a human being and of my tribe.”

- “These white people think this country belongs to them. They don’t realize that they are only in charge right now because there’s more of them than there are of us. The whole country changed with only a handful of raggedy-ass pilgrims that came over here in the 1500s. And it can take a handful of raggedy-ass Indians to do the same, and I intend to be one of those raggedy-ass Indians.”

Day 100! of Racism Free Ontario’s 100 People of Colour Spotlight.
 .(more info  at Anna Mae Aquash)