The City of Delta will install a pair of signs recognizing the tragedy of the Komagata Maru at the North Delta Social Heart plaza.
On Monday, Delta council voted to place two storyboards — one in English and one in Punjabi — near the spray park at the south-west corner of the park.
The recommendation stems from a proposal from the non-profit Descendents of the Komagata Maru Society to name a park, street or other civic asset in memory of the ship’s passengers.
The Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver from Hong Kong in May 1914, carrying 376 passengers. Most of the passengers were immigrants from the Punjab region in what was then British India. The hundreds of passengers were not allowed on shore, and for two months they remained in the waters outside of Vancouver before being forced to return to India.
Upon their return, 20 of the passengers were shot and killed “in an encounter with British Indian police and troops,” according to canadianencyclopedia.ca.
In an email top the North Delta Reporter, Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society vice-president and spokesperson Raj Singh Toor thanks mayor and council, city staff and Delta’s Heritage Advisory Commission for their work in making the signs a reality and helping residents to be better informed about the hardships the ship’s passengers endured.
“We can’t undo the past, but we can move forward and leave a legacy for future generations by educating them about the past. This new Komagata Maru storyboard sign in the North Delta Social Heart Plaza will help educate the community and remind us of Delta’s diverse makeup. I hope that it will help in connecting British Columbians, Canadians and Delta residents with their past, in order to build a more peaceful and tolerant tomorrow,” Toor said.
In a press reelase Tuesday afternoon, Mayor George Harvie said he was proud of council for approving the signs.
“I look forward to seeing the sign installed at the North Delta Social Heart Plaza where all Deltans will be able to learn about this important part of our history and feel the impact it still has today. Recognizing and acknowledging our past helps to provide a more inclusive present and a positive, diverse future.”
At last week’s council meeting (Dec. 7), council received a staff recommendation to place the signs at Delview Park, however that was referred back to staff to report back on the city’s policy governing where and why historical signs are placed in city parks.
The same recommendation was also referred back to staff by the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission on Oct. 29 for the same reason.
On Monday, Coun. Lois Jackson expressed her confusion at the proposal coming back before council with a new location without first returning to the Heritage Advisory Commission, which she chairs and which is responsible for historical signage, for its consideration regarding the change.
Additionally, Jackson said she understood the motion passed at last week’s council meeting to mean staff would be reporting back with policies and procedures for where and why historical signs — including these ones — are placed in city parks.
Mayor George Harvie, whose office brought forward the recommendation to place the signs at the Social Heart Plaza, said council made it clear at last week’s meeting they did not want the signs’ approval to drag on.
“Frankly, I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed for this council because this request came to council in December 2019. (…) And here we are, one year after having a request, [and] at the same time it has been recognized by the federal government, it’s been recognized — rightfully so — by the provincial government, recognized by the City of Vancouver, and recently recognized by the City of Surrey,” Harvie said.
“I, as mayor, think it’s very sad that we take over a year to do something that is so important, to recognize the tragedy that happened and recognize the importance of it to our North Delta South Asian community.”
The mayor went on to say he didn’t think a park is the right site for this type of monument, and with staff came up with the Social Heart Plaza as “the most appropriate place for recognition of this most unfortunate event,” as well as other future historical plaques.
“I do not want to see this go on for another year.”
Harvie reminded Jackson that it is council that makes these decisions, not the Heritage Commission.
“We’re the elected people here. We don’t have to keep going back [to the commission]. And if the excuse is that we need to go back and get more policy, I wonder what the real agenda is.”
Jackson clarified her issue is with the lack of consultation with the Heritage Commission since they signed had signed off on the Delview Park location in consultation with the Descendents of the Komagata Maru Society.
“My concern is, quite frankly, all of this discussion has been going on … and the Heritage Commission has not been involved. I haven’t been involved in any of the discussions you’ve talked about with Parks or yourself, your worship. I would have appreciated some kind of notification,” Jackson said.
“We can put it up wherever you want it to go, but it would have been nice to have at least had the courtesy of a discussion with yourself, your worship, or Parks or somebody.”
Coun. Dan Copeland, who moved the report recommending the Delview Park location be referred back to staff at last week’s council meeting, said he understands both Jackson and Harvie’s frustrations, and while he supports the signs’ placement at the North Delta Social Heart Plaza, he still believes there needs to be some protocol in place to help council navigate similar requests in the future.
Other councillors also voiced their support for the Social Heart Plaza location, while reiterating the need for a clear sign policy moving forward.
Council voted 5-0 to approve the proposal, with Jackson abstaining. Coun. Alicia Guichon was not present Monday night.