Former Conservative MP Harry Stevens's name removed from federal building in Vancouver

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      For 19 years in the early 20th century, a racist Conservative politician named Harry Stevens represented Vancouver in Parliament. For nearly another 11 years, he was the MP for Kootenay East.

      Nowadays, Stevens is best known to Vancouver residents for his vehement opposition to allowing more than 350 South Asian passengers on the Komagata Maru to disembark in the city in 1914.

      And he, along with immigration officers Malcolm Reid and William Charles Hopkinson, played key roles in the vessel being forced to return to India, where 18 passengers were shot by British troops after an uprising in Boj Boj, West Bengal.

      The ship wasn't allowed to dock because of a discriminatory law requiring ships from India to make a continuous journey and not stop for provisions along the way.

      That's been a long-standing issue of concern to many people of Indian ancestry, who see this as a prime example of white supremacy and a blemish on the country's history.

      But Stevens's name remained on a federal building until today in Mount Pleasant.

      That changed when two Liberal cabinet ministers—Carla Qualtrough and Harjit Sajjan—announced that it will revert to being called by its address, 125 10th Avenue East.

      It came when the pair attended a ceremony recognizing a new mural on the building.

      Created as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival, the federal government is calling it a "symbolic gesture of reconciliation to victims of the Komagata Maru incident, and as a way of paying tribute to the kindness of spirit demonstrated by the nearby Indigenous Peoples".

      Henry Herbert Stevens, a.k.a. Harry Stevens, is in the centre of this image speaking to a reporter. To the far right is immigration inspector William Charles Hopkinson, who was later murdered in retaliation for the killings of two men at Vancouver's first Sikh temple.
      Library and Archives Canada, PA 034017

      "Removing Harry Stevens’ name from the federal building in Vancouver will help educate the community and remind us of how unique Canada’s diverse makeup is," Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society spokesperson Raj Singh Toor said in a government news release. "We are all richer when we remember how special it is to have so many different ethnic communities living together. While it can’t right past wrongs, I hope that it will help to connect Canadians with their past in order to build a more peaceful and tolerant tomorrow.”

      The art was commissioned as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival. It shows how First Nations people to provide food and supplies to the would-be immigrants as they waited in the harbour for two months.

      Keerat Kaur painted the ship, and Alicia Point and Cyler Sparrow-Point created the Indigenous art on the mural. 

      "Today is about acknowledging our history, learning from it, and vowing to never let the wrongs of the past happen again," Sajjan said in a news release. "The Komagata Maru incident was a tragedy in the truest sense of the word.

      "Canada is a different nation today, but we can never forget what happened here, so we can learn from it and ensure it never happens again," he continued. "Removing the name from this federal building and installing the important mural here will serve as that constant reminder. These actions by the government also signify our commitment to moving forward, to embracing inclusion and celebrating diversity in everything we do."

      This famous historical photograph shows many passengers who were forbidden from disembarking from the Komagata Maru after it arrived in Vancouver's harbour.
      Vancouver Public Library

      The ship was chartered by Gurdit Singh, who believed that the government woudn't prevent the ship from landing because South Asian passengers on another another vessel, the Panama Maru, were allowed to disembark in the previous year as a result of a court decision.

      But according to The Voyage of the Komagata Maru by SFU professor emeritus Hugh Johnston, the Canadian government amended the language in the legislation in the intervening period. So Singh was unsuccessful in challenging the discriminatory legislation of that era.

      "So he led them into a mess," Johnston told the Straight in 2014. "And the only excuse is that he didn’t know enough. He was too supremely confident without enough knowledge.”

      (Left to right) Defence MInister Harjit Sajjan, Indigenous artists Alicia Point and Cyler Sparrow-Point, artist Keerat Kaur, Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough, Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society spokesperson Raj Singh Toor, and Liberal MPs Randeep Sarai and Sukh Dhaliwal stand in front of the mural at 125 East 10th Avenue in Vancouver.
      Carla Qualtrough