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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”)
The impressive contribution of Polish Canadians to Canadian society has been made by hundreds of thousands of Polish immigrants and their descendants who, according to 1996 census, number almost half a million.
Many of the early Polish immigrants were members of the Watt and De Meuron military regiments from Saxony and Switzerland sent to Canada to help the British Army in North America, and several were émigrés who took part in the 1830 and 1863 insurrections against the Russian occupation of Poland. The first Polish immigrant, Dominik Barcz, is known to have come to Canada in 1752. He was a fur merchant from Gdansk who settled in Montreal. He was followed in 1757 by Charles Blaskowicz, who worked as deputy surveyor-general of lands. In 1776 arrived army surgeon Auguste Francois Globenski, whose descendants played a prominent role in the St. Eustache community north of Montreal. A descendant, Charles Auguste Globenski was elected to the House of Commons in Ottawa in 1875.
There were Poles in Selkirk’s expedition that attempted a settlement on the Red River Valley, but apparently did not stay long.
In 1841, Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski from Poland arrived in Canada via the U.S.A. and for 50 years made numerous contributions in the engineering business, military and community life of Toronto and Southern Ontario, for which he was knighted by Queen Victoria.
Charles Horecki contributed in 1872 to the exploration and railway construction possibilities of the land from Edmonton to the Pacific Ocean, through the Peace River Valley. Today, a mountain and a body of water in British Columbia are named after him.
The first group-settlers were the Kaszubs of Northern Poland who escaped from Prussian oppression. They arrived in Renfrew County of Ontario in 1858, where they founded the settlements of Wilno, Barry’s Bay, and Round Lake. By 1890 there were about 270 Kaszub families working in the beautiful Madawaska Valley of Renfrew County, and contributing to the lumber industry of the Ottawa Valley.
The other waves of Polish immigrants in the periods from 1890-1914, 1920-1939, and 1941 to this day, settled across Canada from Cape Breton to Vancouver, and made numerous and significant contributions to the agricultural, manufacturing, engineering, teaching, publishing, religious, mining, cultural, professional, sports, military, research, business, governmental and political life of our country.
Some Polish-Canadians have been recognized by awards and appointments by the Queen, our governments, universities and prominent organizations. First, pilot-gunner Andrew Mynarski of Winnipeg should be mentioned. He was awarded posthumously the Victoria Cross for extreme valour in World War II. Recipients of the Order of Canada were: citizenship judge Irena Ungar, Group Captain Stefan Sznuk, missionary Oblate priests Rev. Anthony Hylla and Rev. Michael Smith, Rt. Rev. Monsignor Anthony Gocki of Regina, lawyer B. Dubienski of Winnipeg, former alderman and citizenship judge, Knight of St. Gregory, Peter Taraska of Winnipeg, multilingual radio station founder and broadcaster Casimir Stanczykowski of Montreal, Captain Andrew Garlicki of Ottawa, and W.W.II staff-sergeant of the Polish Army Jan Drygala of Oshawa.
In the legal profession, many lawyers are Queen’s Counsels, and some have been appointed judges, such as Their Honours Judge Allan H. J. Wachowicz of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton, and Judge P. Swiecicki, of the Superior Court of BC in Vancouver; Paul Staniszewski of Toronto and Montreal, now of the County Court of Windsor, and E.F. Wrzeszczinski-Wren of the County Court of Toronto.
The first Polish priest visited Polish immigrants in 1862 in Kitchener. The first church serving Polish immigrants was in Wilno, Ontario, built in 1875. In Winnipeg, Re. Father Wojciech Kulawy, the first Oblate missionary who served the Polish immigrants in Western Canada, built the Holy Ghost Church in 1899, and founded in 1904 the first newspaper, a weekly called “Glos Kanadyjski”, followed by the “Gazeta Katolicka” in 1908.
The first Polish-Canadian Roman Catholic bishop is the Most Reverend Mathew Ustrzycki, who was consecrated in June 1985, auxiliary bishop of the Hamilton Diocese. In addition to 80 priests serving in 120 parishes, there are Polish-Canadian priests in many congregations and orders, such as the Franciscans, Jesuits, Redemptorists, Saletinians, Resurrectionists, Oblates, Michaelites, and Society of Christ.
These priests and sisters are performing a tremendous service to our society and have enriched the Polish-Canadian community with many churches, missions, homes, schools, and day-care centers.
Some missionary Oblate Brothers served among Canadian native peoples. One of them, Reverend Antoni Kowalczyk, led a very devoted life and after his death his beatification process had been initiated.
In the professions, Polish engineers and architects have a tremendous record of accomplishments dating from Sir Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski in 1841. During the early years of W.W.II, a group of Polish engineers were brought to Canada by the Federal Minister, C.D. Howe, to help in the war effort. This group made a very significant contribution then and in their professional life in many industries, for example: Jan Zurakowski of the Avro Aircraft Company in Malton, testing the Avro airplane. He was awarded in 1959 Canada’s top Aviation Award, the McKee Trophy; P. Wyszkowski, who was Chief Structural Engineer of Toronto’s Bloor Street subway; Dr. Tadeusz Blachut, of Ottawa, who worked with the National Research Council, and is a photogrammetric expert of world-renown; Z. Krupski who rose to the position of Executive Vice-Chairman of the Bell Telephone company of Canada; Mr. J. Norton-Spychalski who was a co-founder in 1949 of the Computing Devices of Canada.
In the medical and pharmaceutical sciences, hundreds Polish physicians, surgeons, dentists, pharmacists, medical technicians, and nurse staff of our hospitals and teaching institutions. Among them, Dr. S. Dubiski, Professor of Clinical Immunology at the University of Toronto, and Dr. Antoni Fidler, a professor of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa; Dr. Stanley Skoryna, a surgeon, who was a researcher at McGill University and chief of the U.N. medical expedition to Easter Island (off Chile) in 1964.
Canadians of Polish descent have a long tradition of involvement in political life in Canada. Back in 1809, the first Pole of great significance, Dominik De Barcz was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, that is, Quebec. In 1814, he took a seat in the Legislative Council and in 1837 in the Executive Council. The first Polish immigrant to become a Federal Member of Parliament was Alexandre Eduarde Kierzkowski. He was born in the province of Poznan, Poland and took part in the November Uprising. He was elected in 1858 to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada. In 1861 he was re-elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, and after the creation of Confederation in 1867, he became a member of the House of Commons.
Charles August Maximilian Globenski followed suit by being elected to the House of Commons in 1875. There followed a 75-year hiatus before Dr. Stanley Haidasz became the first contemporary politician of Polish origin to be elected as federal Member of Parliament in 1957. He later took a seat in the Senate. From 1972 to 1974 held the position of minister of State for Multiculturalism. The 1960’s turned out to be the most fruitful; in 1962 Raymond Rock and Stanley Korchinski were elected to take House of Commons; in 1968 Steve Paproski and Don Mazankowski. Later on, Don Mazankowski held the position of the Minister of Transport and Vice Premier. In 1979, Jesse Flis became a federal politician. The most recent Canadians of Polish descent elected to the House of Commons were Pat Sobeski and Stan Keyes (Kazmierczak).
The list of politician of Polish descent at the provincial level is much longer. The most appreciated and admired even today is Elaine Ziemba, Ontario’s MPP and a minister in NDP’s government of Bob Rae. Her commitments to the causes of Canadian Polish community was extraordinary. Here is a partial list of politicians of Polish descent involved in politics at the provincial level: B. Poniatowski, Rev. D. Malinowski (Manitoba), Carl Paproski (Alberta), Ken Kowalski (Alberta), Walter Szwender (Alberta), Geo Topolinsky (Alberta).
Here is the partial list of aldermen of Polish descent: Chris Korwin-Kuczynski, Ben Grys, Tony Jakobek, Mrs. Boerma, Ms. Moszynski, and Councillor Peter Milczyn, Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
There were some Polish-Canadians in the Federal Public Service and Provincial Civil Service whose nominations were awarded by the longstanding service for Canadian Polish community. The highest ranking in the Federal Service was Frank Glogowski, Vice-Chairman of the Immigration Appeal Board. Mr. Stan Zybala became a Deputy-Director of the Multicultural Directorate. Irene Ungar of Toronto and Peter Taraska of Winnipeg became Citizenship Court Judges.
Every day brings new achievements of members of Canadian Polish communities. It is not possible to enumerate all of them. As an example we present just a couple of names of outstanding Poles contributing to Canadian society: George Radwanski was Editor-in-Chief of the Toronto Star for a few years and wrote the most important biography of the Rt. Hon. P.E. Trudeau; Mr. Poznanski (father of Mrs. J. Parizeau) was a prominent economist; Mr. Starowicz is one of the best journalists of CBC; Anne Mroczkowski is one of the best known TV journalists.
Casimir S. Gzowski was born in 1813 and died in 1898. He came of an ancient gentry family, not of high aristocracy, which was settled in the lands that were annexed by Tsarist Russia as a consequence of the Partitions of Poland. Educated with care, chiefly in the technical field, he was drafted into the Russian army at the age of seventeen. When the Rising of November 1830 broke out, he joined the insurgents and took and active part at the side of his compatriots. When the Rising was crushed a year later, along with the company to which he belonged, Gzowski crossed the frontier into Austrian Poland, seeking protection from Tsarist vengeance. Interned by the police, he was quartered along with his fellow insurgents in Trieste, and thence in 1834 deported to the U.S.A.
Undaunted by the initial difficulties to be faced on American soil, he began at once to work hard at English (unknown to him hitherto); and in a short time, by studying law, he succeeded in being admitted to the practice of law in the State of Massachusetts (1837). He dreamed, however, of reverting to the field of engineering, and therefore seized the first opportunity offered to become a civil engineer in railway and canal construction in Pennsylvania. In 1841 he moved to Canada to live, and was made Superintendent of Public Works for what is now Western Ontario by the Ottawa government. He lived first in London, but later in Toronto.
Gzowski remained in public service until 1848, gaining valuable experience and a thorough knowledge of the country. He soon made for himself a name among the leading engineers of the time. Succeeding years were to witness his work as Chief Engineer of one of the first railways linking up Montreal with the U.S.A., and again in the Harbour Works of the great St. Lawrence sea-port. In 1853, in partnership with A.T. Galt, D.L. Macpherson and L.H. Holton, he created a firm for railway construction, to be known as “Gzowski and Co.”, and began the building of the Grand Trunk line from Toronto to Sarnia. This firm was to play a significant role in Canadian railway history. When in 1873 the construction of the International Bridge across the Niagara was finished, his reputation as a front-rank engineer in the New World was assured.
Nevertheless, he did not confine his energies solely to professional duties. As a personal friend and admirer of Sir John A. MacDonald, he was closely connected with the Conservative Party, though never actively engaged in politics. An ardent supporter of imperial unity, he rendered yeoman service in the field of Canadian defence, and in the expansion of the national militia. For this he was named Lt. Colonel of the Forces, and in 1879 he was made an Hon. Adjutant to the Queen (A.D.C.). Eleven years later he was knighted.
During a number of years he sat in the Senate of the University of Toronto. One of the founders of Wycliffe College, he served for fifteen years as Chairman of the Board. He took an active part in the creation of Niagara Falls Park, and was made First Chairman of the Park Commission. Shortly before his death, he was asked by Ottawa to serve as administrator for the Province of Ontario during the illness of its Lt. Governor, Sir George Kirkpatrick.
Gzowski’s personal qualities, his professional skills and his devotion to public affairs in the land of his adoption made him one of the foremost citizens of the Dominion in the second half of the 19th century.