Just off Lakeshore Boulevard stands a memorial honouring one of Toronto’s most distinguished citizens, Polish patriot Sir Casimir Gzowski. Gzowski helped start the Grand Trunk Railway, and in 1890 he was knighted at Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria. As a civil engineer, he pioneered the construction of the International Bridge at Niagara Falls, the Erie Canal, and the grading and surfacing of Yonge Street. Sir Casimir is an ancestor of former Toronto media personality and author Peter Gzowski.
Not far from Gzowski’s monument is “Little Poland,” a neighbourhood located along the strip of shops and delis on Roncesvalles Avenue between the Lakeshore and Dundas Street West. A statue of the first Polish Pope, John Paul II, was erected on the corner of Fern and Roncesvalles avenues, and, close by, St. Stanislaus-Casimir Credit Union displays a commemorative plaque in honour of his 1976 visit to the city. The statue of the Pope was funded by Toronto’s 165,000-member Polish community.
As early as the 1860s, the city directory listed Polish names, but the first wave of immigration began in the 1890s with agricultural workers and artisans. They settled in The Ward in boarding houses on Chestnut, Elm, and Elizabeth streets. The Polish community eventually moved further south to Queen Street West, where the steel and iron industry provided work for some and others found employment as carpenters, piano tuners, and shoemakers.
The church became the focus of the community—the first religious gatherings were held at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on McCaul Street and St. Mary’s on Bathurst Street. In 1911, the church building on Denison Avenue was donated to the Polish Community by Mr. Eugene O’Keefe. Stanislaus Parish was established there, within a large Polish neighbourhood. The parish became a centre for social groups, such as a brass band and a gymnastics association. One of the first religious teaching organizations was the Felician Sisters, first formed in Poland. It started a school on Augusta Street for Polish children and set up a university scholarship fund.
During the Second World War, Polish engineers and technicians who came to work in Canada’s armament industry formed the Association of Polish Engineers in Toronto. Following the war, a large influx of Polish refugees and ex-military personnel streamed into Canada, consisting of professionals, academics, and artisans. The community established a parish credit union—which today is one of the largest in the world, and the Canadian Polish Congress emerged as an umbrella organization for most groups and associations.
Most of the post-war settlers were highly educated, reflected by the great number of Polish professors and professional engineers practising in the city. Polish engineers have contributed to projects such as Roy Thomson Hall, the CN Tower, and TD Bank.
In the 1980s, thousands of refugees fleeing martial law in Poland arrived in the city. Community members often join together to help new immigrants settle or to send food and supplies to Poland. Roncesvalles Avenue, with its churches, financial institutions, delicatessens, and cafes, remains a central meeting and marketplace for the community.
ST. STANISLAUS’ & ST. CASIMIR’S POLISH PARISH CREDIT UNION, (Tel. 416-537-2181, 220 Roncesvalles Ave), is one of the community’s chief financial institutions. It is also one of the largest credit unions in the world with 19 branches, 42,000 members, and assets of more than $340 million. The organization also provides educational and recreational facilities for young people.
KATYN DAY, in April, commemorates the discovery of mass graves of over 15,000 Polish officers murdered by the Soviet secret police in the Katyn forest in 1940.
POLISH NATIONAL CONSTITUTION DAY, May 3, commemorates the day the constitution of 1791 was proclaimed. Usually a solemn mass is held, followed by a parade to the Katyn Memorial to pay tribute to the 15,000 Polish soldiers killed in 1940 in the Katyn forest.
VISTULA REMEMBRANCE. August 15 commemorates the 1920 Polish victory in the battle called “Miracle on the Vistula River.” An out-of-town picnic is held in Brampton’s Paderewski Park (Highway 27 and 7), named after the world-renowned Polish pianist and politician.
INDEPENDENCE DAY, November 11, was first recognized in 1918 when occupying forces were expelled from Poland. In 1939, Poland was invaded and occupied by both German and Soviet forces; and following the Second World War, a Polish people’s republic was created. On this day the Polish flag is raised at Toronto’s City Hall and an evening performance is held.
ANNIVERSARY OF THE DECLARATION OF MARTIAL LAW, December 13. Laying wreaths at the Katyn Monument. On that day in 1981 the Solidarity Movement was crushed by the communist government by declaring martial law.
CHRISTMAS EVE begins with the traditional meatless dinner, a 12-course meal beginning at dusk with the appearance of the first star in the sky. Grace is followed by the sharing of oplatek (thin unleavened wafers stamped with the figures of Jesus, the Blessed Mary, and the Holy Angels). Wafers, tied with a ribbon and a sprig of evergreen, are set on an embroidered cloth on a plate after being blessed in the church. The meal often includes barszcz (beet soup), uszka (dumplings with mushrooms), galabkl (cabbage rolls with rice or buckwheat), fish, sauerkraut with mushrooms, pasta with poppy seed, and a compôte made with dried fruits.
GAZETA, (Tel. 416-531-3230, www.gazetagazeta.com, 215 Roncesvalles Ave). The only Polish daily in Canada. Editor: Zbigniew Belz.
GLOS POLSKI (POLISH VOICE), (Tel. 416-201-9601, 71 Judson St). A weekly tabloid. Contact: Michal Donda.
ZWIAZKOWIEC (THE ALLIANCER), weekly. (Tel. 416-531-2491, 22 Roncesvalles Ave). Editor: Stanislaw Stolarczyk.
PRZEGLAD TYGODNIOWY (POLISH WEEKLY), (Tel. 905-502-1984, 5346 Cosentino Gardens, Mississauga). Contact: Lidia Ambroziak.
RADIO POLONIA, CHIN FM 100.7, (Tel. 416-531-9991, 622 College St). Monday-Friday, 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Producers: Krystyna & Ryszard Piotrowski.
POLISH STUDIO, Channel 57, Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (Tel. 416-503-9465, c/o CHIN Radio/TV International, 622 College St). Contact: Ted Lis.
NA LUZIE, OMNI TV. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Producer: Wojciech Sniegowski.
Z UKOSA, OMNI TV. Saturday, 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Friday 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Producer: Wojciech Sniegowski.
POLONEZ NEWS, (Tel. 416-516-0144, email@example.com) Editor: Marek Goldyn.
CANADIAN POLISH CONGRESS, NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS, (Tel. 416-532-2876, 288 Roncesvalles Ave). The umbrella organization representing the Polish community in Canada, with over 200 member organizations. President: Wladyslaw Lizon.
THE TORONTO DISTRICT OFFICE, (Tel. 416-971-9848, located at 206 Beverley St). President: Jan Cytowski.
THE MILLENIUM FOUNDATION, (Tel. 416-532-2876, 288 Roncesvalles Avenue). Established in 1966 in recognition of 1,000 years of Christianity in Poland.
THE POLISH CANADIAN RESEARCH INSTITUTE, (Tel. 416-532-2876, 288 Roncesvalles Ave). It compiles histories of Poles throughout Canada and their contributions to Canadian culture and science.
THE COORDINATING COUNCIL OF WORLD POLONIA, (Tel. 416-532-2876, 288 Roncesvelles Ave).
THE POLISH COMBATANTS’ ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-979-2017, 206 Beverley St). President: Mr. Marcello Ostrowski.
THE POLISH ENGINEERS ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-977-7723, 206 Beverley St).
POLISH IMMIGRANT COMMUNITY SERVICES, (Tel. 416-233-0055, 3363 Bloor St). Director: Jadwiga Gaszynski.
ASSOCIATION OF POLISH SCOUTS, (Tel. 416-499-8545. Contact: Teresa Berezowski.
POLISH ALLIANCE CENTRE (POLISH CULTURAL CENTRE), (Tel. 416-252-9519, 2282 Lakeshore Blvd. W).
POLONIA FOR THE FUTURE, (Tel. 416-531-3230 ext. 30, 215 Roncesvalles Ave). Established in 1997, it has four regional groups and works in the areas of culture, education, sports, etc. President: Zbigniew Belz. Media contact: Margaret Bonikowska.
POLISH CANADIAN SOCIETY OF MUSIC, (Tel. 416-760-9745). Established in 1986, this society organizes music concerts and represents an orchestra and a choir. Manager: C. Maria. President: S. Chorzempa.
POLISH CANADIAN WOMEN’S FEDERATION, (Tel. 416-255-8608, 2 Bradbrook Rd). President: Yvonne Bogorya-Buczkowski.
THE POLISH INSTITUTE OF ARTS & SCIENCES IN AMERICA, Canadian Branch, Toronto Chapter, (Tel. 416-535-6233, 288 Roncesvalles Ave). Chair: Ywona Kirejcrk.
POLISH NATIONAL HALL AND POLISH NATIONAL UNION OF CANADA, (Tel. 416-201-9607, c/o Polish Voice, 71 Judson St). President: Bogdan Adamczak.
CANADIAN POLISH TEACHERS ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-532-2876, 288 Roncesvalles Ave).
POLISH ALLIANCE CANADA, (Tel. 416-531-2491, 1586A Bloor St, W). President: Robert Zawierucha.
WAWEL VILLA INC., (Tel. 905-823-3650, www.wawel.org, 880 Clarkson Rd. South., Mississauga), seniors retirement residence.
MARIE CURIE SKLODOWSKA ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-621-8688, 16 Neilor Cres). A ladies charity organization founded in 1957 in memory of Marie Curie Sklodowska, the Polish scientist who was the first and only woman to be twice awarded the Nobel Prize. Her discovery of radium and radioactivity ultimately led to her death of radiation. President: Danute Warszawska.