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In 1914, some 376 British subjects, including 340 Sikhs, were stranded offshore for two months in the ship Komagata Maru, as they unsuccessfully challenged B.C. immigration policies in Burrard Inlet. The ship had been chartered for $66,000 by Gurdit Singh Sarhali, a Sikh entrepreneur, as a direct challenge to a restrictive policy that required all would-be immigrants from India to take direct passage to Canada-when no such direct passage from India existed. During the impasse, food and water aboard ship diminished and social unrest among the South Asian community of B.C. increased. An attempt to board the ship by 150 armed men, in support of a Canadian immigration official, was rebuffed. It took the arrival of the federal navy vessel H.M.C.S. Rainbow on July 23, 1914, to force the Komagata Maru to leave the city and return to Calcutta.

The stand-off has been documented and examined by Hugh Johnston in The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar (1979). Passing through Vancouver in 1914, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had remarked, "The whole incident seemed to me to be so grotesque-for why should sun-loving Hindoos force themselves upon Canada?"; Johnston re-issued the book in 2014 with UBC Press. "This is not just a re-release," said Johnston,"but virtually a new book. How many people get a chance to do a major overhaul on a book thirty-five years after it first appeared and nearly forty years after they started the research? One might question going back to a subject after so long, but I've been asked to do research for a number of projects over the past six or seven years--a projected movie that did not happen, for a museum at the Sikh temple, for a SFU library website, for papers at conferences etc. This has had me digging into the material i collected before 1979 and into what what I have acquired since then. And my perspective has changed over the decades. So has the Sikh community. So this is much more than a light re-write with an introduction."

Alan Dutton, Robert Jarvis, Sohan Sarinder Singh Sangha, Ajmer Rode and Kesar Singh have also written books on the Komagata Maru incident after Sharon Pollock led the way in 1976 with a play about the racist stand-off. In 1990, the Progressive Indo-Canadian Community Services Society also published the proceedings of a Vancouver conference, Beyond the Komagata Maru: Race Relations Today, edited by Alan Dutton. With Tara Singh Bains, Johnston has also published The Four Quarters of the Night: The Life-Journey of an Emigrant Sikh (1995).

British Columbia has been steeped in racism. A chapter of the Ku Klux Klan opened in Vancouver in 1925 and attracted 500 people to a meeting in 1927. It argued for a ban on Oriental immigration and the confiscation of property owned by Asians-laying the groundwork for the government's expropriation of land and possessions from Japanese-Canadians during WWII.

A classic racist tract is Hilda Glynn-Ward's fear-mongering novel The Writing on the Wall (1921), published by the Sun Publishing Company. It concludes with Vancouver's white population dying from typhoid fever contracted from Chinese-grown vegetables and sugar to which local Chinese merchants had purposely added typhoid germs. In this story the Chinese and Japanese remain healthy because they have been "inured to it by countless generations of living without sanitation.";


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An SFU history professor emeritus and former president of the Vancouver Historical Society, Johnston has co-authored a biography of Captain James Cook with fellow Simon Fraser University historian Robin Fisher with whom he co-edited a book on Captain George Vancouver. Johnston also edited The Pacific Province: A History of British Columbia, a production of the SFU History Department that was published by Douglas & McIntyre in 1996.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident -- the 1914 stand-off in which 376 British subjects, including 340 Sikhs, were mostly denied entry to Canada and were stranded for two months in the harbour as they unsuccessfully challenged B.C. immigration policies -- Hugh Johnston re-published The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar (New Delhi: Oxford, 1979; UBC Press 1989).

It is generally understood that the Komagata Maru had been chartered for $66,000 by Gurdit Singh Sarhali, a Sikh entrepreneur, as a direct challenge to a restrictive policy that required all would-be immigrants from India to take direct passage to Canada-when no such direct passage from India existed. It is seldom noted that another ship carrying potential immigrants from India, the Panama Maru, had successfully docked in Victoria in 1913 during which time 38 of its 56 passengers had been accorded the legal right to remain (after they were sequestered in an immigration building near Ogden Point).

During the impasse of 1914, food and water aboard the Komagata Maru diminished and social unrest among the South Asian community of B.C. increased. An attempt to board the ship by 150 armed men, in support of a Canadian immigration official, was rebuffed. It took the arrival of the federal navy vessel Rainbow to force the embarkation of the Komagatu Maru, on its route back to Calcutta, on July 23, 1914. Passengers had been stranded in the Vancouver harbour for exactly two months. (After the ship was forced to leave port, an immigration officer involved in the impasse was assasinated in the Vancouver courthouse. At least two dozen Komagata Maru passengers were later killed during a clash with authorities when the ship returned to India.)

In 1990 the Progressive Indo-Canadian Community Services Society also published the proceedings of a Vancouver conference, Beyond the Komagata Maru: Race Relations Today, edited by Alan Dutton. With Tara Singh Bains, Johnston, has published The Four Quarters of the Night: The Life-Journey of an Emigrant Sikh (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995). From 1992 to 2001 Johnston served on the board of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute that promotes scholarly work and cultural exchanges.

In 2012, Johnston published Jewels of the Qila: The Remarkable Story of an Indo-Canadian Family. According to publicity materials: "This is a story about a remarkable Sikh family and the communities they lived in and supported in both Canada and India. Kapoor Singh Siddoo arrived in British Columbia in 1912 and overcame racial prejudice and legal discrimination to transform himself from labourer to lumber baron. He and his wife, Besant Kaur, fostered in their daughters a vision of service and activism that they fulfilled by establishing a hospital in Punjab and introducing an Indian spiritual tradition to their new home in Canada."

Johnston was educated at the University of Toronto, the University of Western Ontario and King's College at the University of London. He arrived to teach at SFU in 1968, three years after it opened in 1965, and taught there for 37 years prior to publishing Radical Campus: Making Simon Fraser University (D&M, 2005) to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the university. This study of SFU's first decade was compiled with assistance from history students John-Henry Harter and Dino Rossi. "My conviction is that nobody at the time really knew what was happening," he says. "By the time we had our fourth president in 1968, everything the first president knew was gone with him to Ottawa where he found his next job."

[Patricia Roy has become the leading academic authority on anti-Asian policies in B.C. with books such as A White Man's Province: British Columbia Politicians and Chinese and Japanese Immigrants, 1858-1914 (1989) and The Oriental Question: Consolidating a White Man's Province, 1914-41 (2003). For a few of the many books about racism in B.C., see abcbookworld entries for Ito, Roy; Kitagawa, Muriel; Laut, Agnes; Lee, Jo-Anne; McAlpine, John D.; Miki, Roy; O'Keefe, Betty; Robin, Martin; Ward, W. Peter.] @2010.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Jewels of the Qila: The Remarkable Story of an Indo-Canadian Family
Radical Campus: Making of Simon Fraser Universiy
From Maps to Metaphors: The Pacific World of George Vancouver
The Pacific Province: A History of British Columbia
The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar

BOOKS:

British Emigration Policy 1815-1830: Shovelling Out Paupers (Clarendon Press, 1972) 9780198223535.

Captain James Cook and His Time (D&M, 1979). With Robin Fisher.

East Indians in Canada, Booklet #5 (Canadian Historical Association, 1984).

The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar (New Delhi: Oxford, 1979; UBC Press 1988; UBC Press 2014 $29.95 9780774825481)

From Maps to Metaphors: The Pacific World of George Vancouver (UBC Press, 1993). Co-edited with Robin Fisher; based on the Vancouver Conference on Exploration and Discovery.

The India-Canada Relationship Exploring the Political, Economic, and Culture Dimensions (Sage Publications, 1994). Co-editor.

The Four Quarters of the Night: The Life-Journey of an Emigrant Sikh (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995). With Tara Singh Bains.

The Pacific Province: A History of British Columbia (Douglas & McIntyre, 1996). Co-editor.

Radical Campus: Making Simon Fraser University (D&M, 2005).

Jewels of the Qila: The Remarkable Story of an Indo-Canadian Family (UBC Press, 2012) $85.00 978-0-7748-2216-9

[BCBW 2014] "Multiculturalism & Transnationalism" "Sikh"