When the Japanese freighter, Komagata Maru, arrived in Vancouver in 1914, it carried 376 passengers from Punjab, British India. Of those, only 24 were admitted to Canada and the rest were forced at gun-point to return to India.
That shameful chapter in Canadian history is the foundation of the 100-year journey that has been chronicled in a recent publication; the creation of Rana Vig, the 100 Year Journey founder and publisher.
“The experiences of South Asian Canadians are an important part of Canada’s past, present and future. These pioneers have impacted Canada’s social and cultural heritage. They are inspiring and remind us that anything can be achieved with dedication, passion and integrity. We wanted the 100 Year Journey gala, publication, and website to reflect and celebrate the contributions of South Asians who were ordinary people, but did the extraordinary to overcome obstacles and flourish,” said Vig.
The story is told through the tales of early South Asian pioneers, professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators as they settled in B.C. and made it their home.
On November 29 of this year, a gala event was held in Vancouver, not only to mark the launch of the new publication, but to honour some of the people whose stories have helped to chronicle the 100-year journey from the Komagata Maru to the important role of the Indo-Canadian community in today’s Canadian society.
One of the award recipients at that gala was the Peninsula’s own Buncy Pagely.
It’s not the first time that Pagely has been honoured. In 2005 she was presented with the YM-YWCA’s Woman of Distinction Lifetime Achievment Award in recognition of her contribution to the community. Much of that contribution was made in the areas of women’s health and South Asian and aboriginal women’s health issues.
“It’s really not just my story,” said Pagely, “and it’s not just me that’s being honoured. It’s all the generations that came before me as well.
“This is a story of three generations … my grandfather and father and now me. In fact, it’s a five generation story because my sons and their children are carrying on now. “
Her grandfather, Battan Singh Beadall, was on the docks when the Komagata Maru arrived, trying to help the passengers with basic needs as their food and water had all but run out at the time. He had arrived in Vancouver the year before, in 1913, and was desperate to help others to make a home in Canada. Continuing in that vein, he was later one of the delegation of men who travelled to Ottawa to demand that East Indians, British subjects as well, be allowed to vote in federal and provincial elections. Despite the best efforts of that group, it was a right that they were refused until 1949.
Pagely’s father, born in India in 1913 wasn’t allowed into Canada until 1929, during a time when only men were being allowed to immigrate from South Asia. He soon started his own fuel business, Hillcrest Wood, and continued the family tradition of community involvement and service.
Pagely’s husband, Raj Pagely accompanied his wife to the Vancouver gala and was very proud of the role that his wife and her family had played in B.C.’s development. Along with his wife, Raj had previously received an honourary citizen award from the City of Victoria for his own service to the community.
“Really now, it’s time to start recording the next hundred years,” said Pagely. “I know that my children and their children, and others like them, will continue to make the world better. The journey never ends.”
— Tim Collins/News staff