HISTORY OF CONGRESS
History of the Canadian Polish Congress is divided into two periods presented below. In the first period our Polish-Canadian umbrella organization in Canada was named the Federation of Polish Societies in Canada. The Federation was granted federal status on February 7, 1933, under Corporation Number #349500. The change of the name of our organization came to effect during the General Meeting held in Toronto 2-4 September 1944.
The Federation of Polish Societies in Canada
The Federation of Polish Societies was the first Polonian umbrella organization founded in Canada. It played an important part in the consolidation of Polish organizations in Canada.
It is not possible now to say for certain where the initiative for forming a central organization of Poles in Canada originated. It cannot be ascertained whether the concept was put forward by Dr. Jerzy Adamkiewicz, Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Montreal, or by the authorities in Warsaw, which took over the idea and made it a reality.
JulianTopolnicki, an active leader in Polonian organizations, one of the founders of the Federation and its representative in Montreal, writes in his memoirs that the idea of establishing a central organization was born in the White Eagle Society in Montreal in 1931. The president of this organization, Ludwik Wiktor, carried out a series of discussions with his members and with the Society of Polish Veterans, the polish Brotherly Aid Society and the Polish Catholic League.
In these discussions, an active role was played by Mr. J.M. Kreutz, editor of the now-defunct Montreal weekly, “The Polish Word” (“Slowo Polskie”). As a result of the preparatory work of several interested persons, a convention was held in Toronto on November 3-4, 1931. Thirty-five delegates from Ontario and Quebec attended the convention, among them representatives of Catholic and Protestant organizations active in parishes.
At the First Convention the policy was clearly laid down that the new organization was to be exclusively a representative forum of local organizations, with no intention to limit the activity of the local bodies, nor take advantage of their finances. A statute was accordingly presented to the convention that would permit any organization that joined the Federation to maintain its financial independence.
After much debate, the statute was accepted. This statute was prepared by Dr. Nalecz-Dobrowolski, and gives the following aims and purposes to the Federation:
Concentrating and organizing all Polish groups in Canada, maintaining brotherly unity among them.
To wield high the banner of national honour, while drawing strength from the inexhaustible source of national ideals and the heroic past of our Mother-country; defending Poland and its people from enemy attacks while loyally using all its resources for the multi-faceted development of Canada.
Organizing for its members purposeful and fruitful help, both moral and material, as well as, should the need arise, defending the entire Polish community in Canada
Representing the Polish Emigration in Canada to the Canadian political, government and social authorities, to the same authorities in Poland and in other Polish emigration centres, and on the international scene”.
This list mirrors aims and purposes of member organizations. Almost all the Polonian organizations of this period were oriented toward Poland; Canadian problems were secondary.
One point from the statute (paragraph 14) must be mentioned: “No organization whose intentions include sudden change of the existing social order of the world, by revolution, will be permitted to belong to the Federation”.
By this article in the statute, all communist associations, regardless of the name they operated under, were excluded from membership. “Communists” were not named directly, since the Communist Party was not a legal political organization in Canada. Polish communists attempted, nevertheless, to join the Federation, or to prevent its founding. Three representatives of communist association were present at the First Convention in Toronto, but by a vote of 29 to 18, they were asked to leave the conference room.
Twenty-four organizations announced their intention of joining the Federation, including a few religious organizations. The Polish Alliance of Canada was represented at the convention, but by a decision taken at an extra-curricular meeting on January 2, 1932, did not become a member of the Federation.
Mr. J.M. Kreutz, editor of the “Polish Word”, a publication active in the organizing procedures, wrote an article following the convention in which he wrote, among other things:
“Fellow countrymen! The deed accomplished at the Convention in Toronto should be for us all an expression of our national unity; be our pride and joy; and proof of the fact that we have transcended the era of merely local activity, having attained a stage at which the Polish population in Canada can be counted as a part of the Great Polish nation, and not as a group of pariah and outcasts battling with fate.
Congratulations, fellow-Poles, for so much understanding shown for the cause, and for such an amount of unselfish love for Poland, our great Fatherland”.
There is a definite lack, both in the existing archives and in Polonian press, of reports of the Federation activities in the first year of its existence. We may assume that it was a time of organization and prolific correspondence with the aim of cementing contacts; a time to sound out opinions and study possibilities.
The Second Convention was held at Windsor, Ontario, on November 5, 1932. Amendments to the statute concerning the transfer of the office to Winnipeg were prepared. This matter was decided by means of correspondence.
The Federation was strengthened by the fact that many organizations from western Canada became members, but neither the Polish Alliance of Canada (in Ontario) nor the parish societies, united in the Association of Poles (in the west), could be persuaded to join the Federation. While the Polish Alliance sent observers to the convention and promised to review its stand, the Association of Poles persistently maintained its independence.
After the Second Convention the Federation began a recruiting campaign, sending invitations to local organizations, and culminating in a tour by General Secretary John Sikora. Mr. Sikora toured Ontario and Quebec, where he visited the larger communities, making speeches promoting the aim of consolidating the work of Polonian communities within the Federation. He spoke at public meetings in Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor, Kitchener, Kirkland lake, Timmins and Montreal, and conferred with the leaders of various local organizations, both members of the Federation and potential members.
This campaign did have some positive results. In 1933 thirty-three declarations of membership were received, with an additional sixteen organizations coming in the following year, for a total membership of 3,391 individuals. The statute also provided for the acceptance of individuals as independent members, but this form proved to be less attractive, and only ten people became members in this fashion.
The Federation carried out a number of activities requiring funds. There was the fund-rising drive for flood victims in Poland which brought in ,301; the trip of the general secretary to the SWIATPOL convention in Warsaw; organizing the festivities of the “Day of the Sea” in 1933. These manifestations had a highly patriotic character. For the purposes of Polish education in Canada, the Federation received a donation of 5,83 from Warsaw, and this amount was supplemented by profits from other sources and fund-raising drives.
The leaders of the Federation wanted to model the organization on that of a benevolent society. In contrast to the United States, though, where Polonian organizations relied on these foundations, in Canada only a few local organizations were founded on the basis of insurance. The central organization did not change its organizational foundations.
Education was rightly perceived as one of the most important tasks of the Federation. Consequently, appeals for financial support were sent out to member organizations, and a number of leaflets and communiqués were published, emphasizing the importance of this issue. Fund-raising for the Education Fund was begun; 11,000 special stamps/stickers were printed, to be sold at 5 cents each. Somewhat later, member organizations were informed that the head executive board had designated February 1935 as Education Month.
For the purposes of education the Federation received a donation from the World Association of Poles Abroad (SWIATPOL), primarily in the form of teaching aids. By 1935 SWIATPOL had provided about 3,000 textbooks, the youth magazine “Plomyczek”), and other materials such as posters, reproductions of paintings and maps. Existing libraries were restocked and new ones added. The salary SWIATPOL paid to Mr. Sikora, the school inspector, varying from to 0 a month, was a more direct form of subsidy.
Attention was also given to the problem of preserving the “Polishness” of emigrants, particularly among the youth. Warsaw proposed that the Federation send young people to Poland for various types of courses and instruction, which would help, indirectly, to prepare them to take over leadership of the organization. Among the courses offered were ones dealing in sports, gymnastics, scouting and music. Candidates were screened by the consulates until in 1935, after the intervention of SWIATPOL, the Federation began fulfilling this function. The consulates arranged their transportation on Polish ships; the students received discounts on the cost of the trip, free food and lodging for the duration of the course, but had to possess a certain amount of personal spending money. In all, thirty-four young people, both men and women, went to Poland under this program between 1934 and 1936.
The Fourth Convention in Winnipeg, held September 24-26, 1936 resulted in changes in the head executive. The period of John Sikora’s role as secretary and the presidency of B.B. Dubienski came to an end. The report for the convention stated that the Federation was constantly growing in strength, as eighteen new organizations had joined, bringing the total membership to sixty-three.
The Fifth Convention was held in Montreal, September 29 to October 1, 1938. Membership of the Federation had grown to seventy-four organizations, indicating the Federation to be a “great central representative of the Polish population in Canada, which is able to unite in its ranks, under a common ideal, over ¾ of the organized community.
The secretariat of the Federation remained in the law offices of B.B. Dubienski, honorary president of the Federation, and as the report states, “the room has been granted to us for no charge up to this time”.
In April 1939 the executive board sent appeals to all member organizations to carry out fundraising drives for the Polish National Defence Fund. All the member organizations of the Federation joined in the fund raising. Local committees were formed, and a central committee was established in Winnipeg. Many people sent donations independent of the campaign, mailing them directly to Warsaw, or to the consulates in Canada.
With the beginning of the war on September 1, 1939, the head executive board of the Federation released a statement directed to all its member organizations:
“The entire Emigration must stand together as one man under the banner of National Defense held high by the Federation of Polish Societies in Canada and the Central Committee for National Defense in Canada, and must remain in such a position until VICTORY!”.
The last convention, the Seventh, took place September 2-4, 1943, in Windsor. Discussions were mostly on the topic of activities related to the war effort. Motions were accepted and resolutions passed regarding German war crimes, demanding that steps be taken to prevent the continuation of such crimes, and punishment of guilty. In the report to the Sixth Convention of the Federation we read:
“We can be proud of what has been accomplished thanks to ten years of work in the Federation…the platform for our decade-long activity was the preservation of loyalty to our new country, Canada, building a cultural life within the ranks of our organizations, fostering the polish language, and co-operation on a cultural/educational level with the Polish Nation”.
The Federation exerted a powerful, positive influence on the development of Polonian organizational life. Thanks to its existence, consolidation tendencies grew; small, weak, organizational work prepared for action on a wider horizon in the Canadian Polish Congress.
(Excerpts from Benedykt Heydenkorn’s book titled: “The Organizational Structure of the Polish Canadian Community”)