01/27/2014 00:41 EST | Updated 03/28/2014 05:59 EDT

100 years since Komagata Maru denial marked with exhibit

The Sikh Heritage Museum in Abbotsford, B.C., marked the passing of a century since a tragedy took place in Vancouver's harbour with the launch of a new exhibit called: Challenge and Denial: Komagata Maru, 100 Years Later.

Satwinder Bains, director for The Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, helped curate the exhibit and said it's a reminder of a terrible incident — one that needs to be remembered. 

"It was a really sad and tragic event in our community," she said. "A group of people who came to Canada with real ambitions and desires and hopes to be settling into Canada as new immigrants were told to go back in a very perfunctory fashion."

On May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru arrived at Vancouver's port with 376 people on board. 

The dominion government would not allow the passengers to disembark, and the vessel sat in the harbour for two months. 

Eventually, the boat sailed back to Calcutta where it was met by police, and 20 people were killed as they disembarked, while others were jailed.

"Canadian history is rife and rich with lots of experiences of immigrant groups, and this one example of a bit of a dark spot in our Canadian history, when laws were being enacted that were quite racist against certain communities," she said.

Bains said the exhibit will be open to the public for a year, and she especially hopes many younger people will be able to learn about Canada's history from it, and not just from a few paragraphs in a textbook.

"If we don't tell the stories, it will be lost," she said.

Bains said the exhibit happens to be located in the basement of a historic building that is as old as the incident: The Gur Sikh Temple celebrates its centenary this year.