A monument at Harbour Quay dedicated to the Komagata Maru would aid in public education and honour the passengers who were trapped aboard the doomed ship a century ago.
Members of the Komagata Maru commemoration committee broached the idea at a special ceremony attended by 80 people at the Guru Nanak Society temple on Eighth Avenue on Sunday.
“I think that this would be a wonderful idea if we could make it happen,” organizer Palo Soll said.
The monument would be placed at Harbour Quay and overlook the harbour where the Komagata Maru and its 376 passengers would have landed had things been different.
In 1914, two South Asian men travelled to Port Alberni to try and lure the Komagata Maru up the Alberni Inlet to Port Alberni, which authorities didn’t consider a restricted port. The plan failed and the ship dropped anchor in Vancouver instead, where a two-month stalemate ensued before the ship sailed back to India.
“A monument at Harbour Quay would be a good public education tool because it would remind people of the history of the incident,” Sall said. “It would also point out that Port Alberni has a connection to that history because the ship almost docked here.”
The monument has more meaning that just footnoting a historical event. “In our culture, we have a very deep, deep respect for our ancestors,” city councillor Hira Chopra said about the ship’s 376 passengers.
Committee members are going to huddle up to discuss the idea further before making inquiries to the city, Soll said.
Mayor John Douglas, who attended the ceremony, said he would be open to discussing the idea. “I’ve only recently become intimately aware of this incident and our city’s place in it,” he said. “I think it’s important to not just remember this but to learn from it as well.”
Among the things to learn, Douglas said is “that we all came from somewhere else. The people who came to this country are the people who helped build this country.”
Sitting quietly in attendance at the ceremony was Pauline Siegfried (born Indarpaul Kaur Rattan), a Port Alberni resident and retired school teacher.
“My grandfather Chanda Singh Rattan was aboard the Komagata Maru,” Siegfried said. “His ticket number was 247.”
Siegfried’s older brother Mohinder told her 10 years ago of their grandfather’s voyage. The then 22-year old Chanda survived the trip back to India and, undaunted, returned to Canada later with his family.
“On one hand I was surprised to know that I have an intimate place in this history,” Siegfried said. “But on the other hand, it’s awful what was done to them.”
Little if any information about the event was ever taught in schools, Siegfried said, something that would be invaluable. “I understand the value it would have of teaching kids to be accepting of everyone.”