Canada Post to release stamp marking Komagata Maru incident

Passengers on the Komagata Maru.

Passengers on the Komagata Maru.

The incident that locked out hopeful immigrants to Canada will be remembered through a label that is used everyday across the country: a postage stamp.

Canada Post, the country’s primary postal operator, will be releasing a stamp on May 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident, when a Japanese-owned ship carrying South Asian passengers was denied entry upon arrival in Canadian waters.

A sad moment in Canada’s history

On May 23, 1914 the Komagata Maru, carrying 376 South Asian passengers of mostly Sikh background, was refused permission to land in Vancouver due to the laws in place to discourage non-white immigrants from entering Canada.

Instead of a journey for a better life, the passengers arriving in Vancouver were denied food and water, and were not allowed to disembark.

After two months of waiting and hoping to be granted entry, the majority of the passengers on board the Komagata Maru were forced to leave Vancouver on July 23, 1914. This event lead the passengers to face further conflicts after they had landed in Calcutta, India.

Stamps to stories

Jim Phillips, director of stamp services at Canada Post, explains that the Komagata Maru stamps came about after receiving suggestions to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the incident. Phillips explains the long standing decision-making policy which involves the Canadian Stamp Advisory committee discussing, reviewing, and debating on the subject to give a final recommendation to Canada Post.

After the approval of the board of directors and the chairman of the board regarding the subject, the designing of the stamps will then take place. The stamp advisory committee will vote among the various designs and give directions to further improve the designs.

“We want to tell a powerful story in a very small [space] and talk about this incident,” says Phillips.

By bringing awareness to the Komagata Maru incident, Phillips hopes people can see how much Canada has advanced in accepting multiculturalism.

“We’d like to set an example to communities in the world that Canada is a tolerant place, and we have a respect for diversity,” says Phillips.

Remembering the past

Aj Rai, office manager and member of the Khalsa Diwan Society. | Photo by Kumiko Aoki

Aj Rai, office manager and member of the Khalsa Diwan Society. | Photo by Kumiko Aoki

Aj Rai, Office Manager and member of the Khalsa Diwan Society, a Sikh society in Vancouver, said he thinks Canada Post’s stamp release of the Komagata Maru incident is very good.

“We’re very happy and everybody’s very excited because this means a lot to the community,” Rai says.

Rai points out the release of the stamps will make people more aware of this historical incident, and realize how this form of injustice should never happen again.

Rai also shares what he hopes the younger generation will gain from knowing about this historical incident.

“The younger generation should know what kind of sacrifices were made by the people then, so they can have a better life now,” Rai says.

Pall Beesla, a senior assistant treasurer / social media communications at the Khalsa Diwan Society, explains the importance of passing on the story to the youth.

“If we’re not continuously remembering or teaching [this history], whether it’s my generation or the next generation younger than me, it’s possible for any kind of injustice to reoccur in a different form,” says Beesla.

Beesla adds Canada’s diversity is made stronger by learning from the past and that only through remembering events such as the Komagata Maru will Canadians be able to move forward and accept diversity.

“I’m hoping these kinds of life lessons and history lessons will help, encourage and motivate us to be better people and eventually [be] a role model for the world as to how to be accepting of cultural, religious, and different community beliefs and their belief systems, ” says Beesla.