Some Christmas dreams for the Polish-Canadian community
By Mark Wegierski
It has to be said at the outset, that the lack of meaningful intellectual and cultural infrastructures for the Polish-Canadian community is particularly troubling. While the work of Professor Tamara Trojanowska, who has taught Polish Language and Literature at the University of Toronto has been considerably helpful (such as the major international conference on Polish themes that took place in February 2006), Professor Piotr Wrobel, who holds the Chair of Polish History at the University of Toronto, has been seen by some as rather cool to the core concerns of the Polish-Canadian community.
Some worthy goals for the community could be the considerable augmenting of such institutions as the Polish Library in Montreal, the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in Canada (PIASC), and the Canadian-Polish Research Institute (CPRI) in Toronto. For example, it would be helpful if the publication of the annual scholarly journal of the Polish Library in Montreal and PIASC, could be restored. (The last extant issue appeared in 2007-2008.)
Obviously, the community should try to increase support to its currently small, mostly impecunious foundations – notably, the Adam Mickiewicz Foundation in Canada, the Canadian-Polish Millennium Fund, and the Wladyslaw Reymont Foundation (Canada).
It would be helpful to put into place such things as real scholarships for Polish-Canadian graduate students, especially in the social sciences and humanities (as seen, for example, in some other communities, reaching an amazing $20,000 a year per person!). These scholarships should be primarily merit-based.
It would also be helpful if these foundations could offer, for example, scholarships for Polish-Canadians taking journalism courses and programs, as well as for students of creative writing working on Polish themes, along with annual prizes for the best Polish-Canadian writers (rather than for already well-established, big-name authors from Poland).
It would be helpful, furthermore, to augment the Polish-Canadian Publishing Fund (Polski Fundusz Wydawniczy w Kanadzie) on the understanding that it would begin to extensively publish books in English, rather than almost exclusively in Polish.
It would be desirable to re-establish a Polish-Canadian literary-artistic-cultural publication along the lines of the now-defunct High Park Magazine (which published twenty-five magnificent issues between 1992 and 1998). Perhaps one of the major Polish-Canadian newspapers might be interested in having such a quarterly magazine supplement?
I have also noticed that the superb Western-Canadian-based literary-artistic-cultural magazine, Strumien (Stream) has not been able to keep up annual appearances. It is presumably short of funds and needs financial assistance.
It would also be efficacious to finally launch that “Polish-Canadian Defence Fund” on at least a somewhat professional basis, although in this case, support from the government could not be expected. The work of continuously monitoring the various main Canadian media – and responding as necessary -- cannot be undertaken in this very media-saturated society solely by volunteer effort.
As far as the Canadian Polish Congress (KPK) -- the chief representative institution of the Polish-Canadian community -- one would hope for the increasing professionalization of its executive posts and of its fund-raising initiatives. Can one hope that it will ever be able to break out of what has appeared to be its state of perpetual penury?
As far as the Polish veterans’ organizations, it has been suggested, for example, that the Polish Combatants’ Association (SPK) building on 206 Beverley Street (close to the University of Toronto main campus and downtown Toronto), could become an archival, library, and museum institution, to be called the Museum of Poland and the Poles in World War II. It would be felicitous if those institutions of the Polish state whose mission is focussed on Poles and persons of Polish descent living abroad, such as, most notably, the Wspolnota Polska (Polish Commonweal) could offer some support in this regard. The rhetoric on its website is certainly high-flown – and it is, after all, more than thirty years since the fall of Communism!
The irony is that, as individuals, many Polish-Canadians do considerably or even very well in Canadian society. However, this personal success has, unfortunately, rarely been translated into greater clout and success for the community as a whole.
If at least some of the initiatives mentioned above were rapidly actualized, they could create a social, cultural, and intellectual impetus that could sustain the community for many future decades!
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher. He was born in Toronto of Polish immigrant parents.