Gurdit “Bagga” Singh, originally belonging to Sarhali village in Amritsar district was a seasoned contractor based in the Malay Straits for many years when he visited Hongkong in January 1914. While in Hongkong, he observed that there was a large population of Indians there who were waiting to go to USA and Canada but lacked the resources and the clout required to get tickets. The shipping companies, being dominated by the European and American companies, the entry restrictions were severely imposed on the less privileged people like the Indians. Canada had recently closed its doors to Indian immigrants as per their policy of exclusion by enforcing a clause of ‘continuous journey’ on anyone wishing to enter Canada, knowing fully well that it could affect the Indians only as that country was very far from Canada.
He talked around and networked among the large Indian population and was struck by their helplessness in the matter. Not only did he want to do something about it, he also sensed a good business opportunity to start a shipping business if his idea clicked. He thought of hiring a ship on charter and pick up passengers from India to Canada. Two students, Bir Singh and Daljit Singh offered to help him organize the new venture by looking after paperwork as needed. Gurdit Singh instructed them to start compiling passenger lists and to start corresponding with the Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver. Accordingly, he released a Punjabi language advertisement for intending immigrants, published on 13 February 1914, announcing the planning of a ship journey from Calcutta to Canada via Penang, Singapore, Hongkong and Shanghai and explaining in some detail what his proposals were. However, since he could not arrange to find a ship in Calcutta and also as the ‘continuous journey’ clause posed serious limitations on that scheme, he was forced to change the starting point of his journey to Hongkong.
He came back to Singapore in February 1914 and started looking around for a suitable ship. He contacted a Chinese shipping company that he knew well from before, Straits Steamship Co. who showed him two ships Hong Moh and Hong Bee but were not found suitable for the Pacific crossing. After looking at a few more ships in the region, he still could not find a suitable ship for the journey to Vancouver, so he tied up his business affairs in Singapore and brought along his seven year old son Balwant Singh with him to Hongkong, having lost both his first wife and the second wife earlier. In Hongkong the influence of british government was substantial and hence british owned shipping companies shied away from doing business with him. After many tries and efforts, he was at last able to secure the time charter for the ship Komagata Maru through a German shipping agent, Mr. Bune who was based in Hongkong. The charter was for six months at HK$11,000 per month, first month paid on signing, second within a week, third and fourth within two weeks and remaining within two months. The owners would provide captain, T Yamamoto, and crew for the ship but no wireless.
At this point, Dr. Mathra Singh finalized the travel arrangements with Gurdit Singh and in early March, 2014, went back to India to get his younger brother Labh Singh who he wanted to go to Canada on the Komagata Maru. Eventually, they could not be back in time and failed to catch the Komagata Maru at Hongkong or Shanghai where they went to try catching up with the ship. Read more in the book.