MISSISSAUGA, Ontario—In honor of the contributions of Sikh immigrants to Canada, ‘Lions of the Sea’ will soon embark on a Canada-wide journey that begins in Mississauga. On Friday, the federal government announced funding for the Mississauga-based Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada (SHMC) to create a unique exhibit called “Lions of the Sea”.
Tim Uppal, minister of state for multiculturalism, announced $89,500 funding for the project. Brampton West MP Kyle Seeback and board members of Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada as well as family members of Baba Gurdit Singh, one of the key figures who chartered the Komagata Maru ship, were also present. The funding was part of the 100th anniversary commemoration of the 1914 incident in which the Japanese ship Komagata Maru and its 376 passengers, consisting of 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus, arrived from India at Vancouver Harbour, but authorities didn’t allow passengers to disembark and denied them entry into Canada under ‘continuous journey’ rules.
Uppal said the exhibition will educate Canadians on Sikh history, the voyage of the Komagata Maru, and about the important contributions of Sikh-Canadians in building the country. The exhibition is called “Lions of the Sea” because most of the passengers on the ship were male Sikhs and shared the name “Singh”, which translates as ‘lion’.
When the Japanese ship arrived at Vancouver, only 20 passengers, who traveled directly from their country of origin, were permitted to land. The distance from India necessitated a stopover along the way, the Komagata Maru had stopped in Hong Kong. After eight weeks of standoff, the ship was escorted out of Canadian waters and forced to sail back to India. On arrival in Calcutta, passengers encountered hostile British authorities, which suspected them of being members of the revolutionary Ghadar Party, which wanted to liberate India from British rule. Shots were fired at the passengers, resulting in the death of 19 people. Another 20 died of hunger waiting to disembark. All the remaining passengers were put behind the bars in India.
In May 2008, the Harper government passed a unanimous motion in the House of Commons recognizing the Komagata Maru incident and apologizing to those who were directly affected. Prime Minister Stephen Harper conveyed that apology to the Indo-Canadian community in Surrey, BC. Earlier this year, the government also unveiled a Komagata Maru stamp to commemorate the 100th anniversary of a 1914 tragedy and provided $2.5 million funding to build a monument and a museum in Vancouver.
“Canada is a global model where people live, work and do great things together. It would be nice if we say it was always the case, but as the story of Komagata Maru reminds us that unfortunately it was not always the case, today we appreciate the contributions of Sikhs, Punjabis and those who made contributions for over a century,” said Uppal.