Collections

Brick thrown from the SS Komagata Maru

Significance 

This brick was thrown at police in desperation by Sikhs who had risked everything to come to Canada in 1914. At the time, immigrants to Canada were required to arrive via continuous passage, but there was no direct route from India to Canada. An enterprising Sikh businessman named Gurdit Singh created a route, and chartered the Japanese freighter Komagata Maru to challenge Canada’s discriminatory immigration laws.

The ship arrived in Canada on May 23, 1914, but the immigration department would not let them land. The ship sat in the harbour for two months during the summer of 1914. Eventually on July 23, 1914, only 22 Sikhs were allowed to land, and 354 were turned back to India.

The entire Sikh community in British Columbia was devastated by the Komagata Maru incident. Most Sikhs lost faith in Canada, its laws, and its institutions. Many were so upset by these events that they went back to India to help overthrow British rule. Many others went to the United States in search of better social and economic conditions. By 1918, the Sikh population in B.C. had dropped to a low of about 700 people from a high of about 5000 in 1908. These were the survivors who weathered the storm and remained in Canada. They banded together and became stronger as a community and saw a future for themselves and their families in Canada.

Ironically, this brick was collected by Vancouver’s First City Archivist Major J. J. Matthews as a symbol of the lawlessness of the Sikhs. Matthews, like many Vancouverites of European background has little sympathy for the Sikh’s challenge to immigration policy. Matthews wrote the typed label which he decoupaged to the brick.

Date Range 
1914
Place of Use 
Thrown by passengers on the SS Komagata Maru
Dimensions 
6.2 cm high, 11.5 cm wide, 11 cm deep
Museum Location 
Doing History learning cart
Catalog Number 
H982.217.104
Donor 
Major J.S. Matthews collection