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Voyage of the "Undesirables": Remembering the Komagata Maru

They were Canada's first boat people: 100 years ago, the freighter Komagata Maru, carrying 376 Punjabi immigrants from British India, was prevented from landing in Vancouver. Producer Yvonne Gall tells the story of this shameful chapter in our history, and how it still resonates today.
Passengers aboard the Komagata Maru when it arrived in Vancouver harbour on May 23, 1914. Passengers were dressed to go ashore. They were never allowed to leave the ship.
Listen to the full episode53:59

They were Canada's first boat people: 100 years ago, the freighter Komagata Maru, carrying 376 Punjabi immigrants from British India, was prevented from landing in Vancouver. Producer Yvonne Gall tells the story of this shameful chapter in our history, and how it still resonates today. **This episode originally aired May 23, 2014.


The newspaper of the day warned of the "Hindu Invasion". Immigration officials and politicians spent weeks doing everything in their power to keep the immigrants on the boats. Despite the best efforts of the passengers and the local South Asian residents, the Komagata Maru and its passengers were forced to return to India with deadly consequences. It is yet another shameful chapter in Canada's history. A chapter that receives short shrift in our history books. The ghosts of the Komagata Maru continue to haunt our current immigration policies and our attitudes towards present day refugees.


Participants in the program:

Naveen Girn: Cultural researcher for Simon Fraser University's Komagata Marui project. He has also curated several exhibitions for the centennial commemoration of the Komagata Maru including exhibits at Museum of Vancouver and the Surrey Museum

Hugh Johnston: Professor Emeritus of History at Simon Fraser University.  Author of The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: the Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar. Second edition published May 2014 by UBC Press.

Audrey Macklin: Professor of Law at the University of Toronto. Teaching areas include criminal law, immigration and refugee law.

Sukhi Ghuman: Paternal great-grandfather was on the Komagata Maru.  His name was Harnam Singh Sohi.

Jaswinder Singh Toor: Head of the Komagata Maru Descendants Family Society.  Grandfather, Puran Singh Janetpur was on the Komagata Maru.

Ali Kazimi:  Associate Professor in the Department of Film at York University.  Author of  Undesirables: White Canada and the Komagata Maru (Douglas & McIntyre, 2012). The book expands on the documentary, Continuous Journey, which documents the fate of the Komagata Maru and its passengers.

Special thanks to Naveen Girn

Archival tape sourced from CBC Radio documentaries including the 1964 production of the Komagata Maru Affair and the 1976 production of Following the Rainbow: the Komagata Maru Incident.

White Canada Forever
courtesy of Ali Kazimi and Phil Strong.


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