In celebration of twenty years at Enter Stage Right -- Bionote of Mark Wegierski (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
Mark Wegierski was born of Polish immigrant parents, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He attended the local public school, Swansea Public School, until Grade 5. (He had also attended Kindergarten at the same site.) He still has fond memories of the crusty old teachers at Swansea, notably Miss Cochrane (his Grade 1 teacher), Mrs. MacIntyre, and Miss Little (his Grade 5 teacher). He completed three grades in two years, and thus entered Grade 5 after three years of grade school. He was elected as Canadian Red Cross Student President (1970-1971), at Swansea Public School. He really got into the election campaign, producing numerous posters and giving a long speech. He attended St. Pius X Separate (Catholic) School for Grade 6 (an old-school nun, Sister Hermann, was his teacher), and James Culnan Separate (Catholic) School for Grade 7.
Being a year younger than most of the students in Grade 7 at James Culnan, he faced considerable bullying in that year. His problems were aggravated by the fact it was a semi-experimental “open concept school” with so-called “classrooms without walls”. Those kinds of faddish concepts were quite popular in the official school systems at that time, and the Separate school system wanted to prove they were just as “progressive” as the Public one. The unpleasantness at James Culnan was a powerful motivator behind his successfully writing the competitive examination for entry into the University of Toronto Schools. He was writing for entrance into Grade 7, for which he was the appropriate age. He had previously written the examination from Grade 6 (for Grade 7 at UTS), but had not succeeded at the first try.
Mark Wegierski represented James Culnan Junior High School (Metropolitan Toronto Separate (Catholic) School Board) at the Toronto Junior High Schools' (including public, separate, and private) Public Speaking Competition, 1973. He also participated in the Kiwanis Club Public Speaking Competition, Regional Finals, 1973. (Special admission to competition without earlier participation.)
Around 1970, Mark Wegierski taped a Polish-language Christmas special (along with other children) that was broadcast (and frequently re-broadcast) around Christmas on one of the Polish-language radio programs in Toronto.
In 1973-1977, Mark Wegierski participated every year in the Wladyslaw Reymont Foundation (Canada) Polish Poetry and Prose Dramatic Recital Competition. In 1973, he won First Prize, which was a trip to Poland. In 1974, he won the Second Prize. In 1975, he won the Second Prize.
In 1976, he won the Third Prize. In 1977, he won the First Prize.
Mark Wegierski completed his Ontario Secondary School Honour Graduation Diploma (OSSHGD) at the University of Toronto Schools (UTS), a unique “public/private” model “laboratory” school linked for a number of years to the Faculty of Education, University of Toronto (FEUT), as well as to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). UTS had been founded in 1910. The plural in the name of the school derives from the fact that originally, a separate school for girls had also been proposed, though it didn’t materialize. Eventually, however, UTS became a co-educational school.
After writing the competitive examination, Mark Wegierski began in Grade 7 in September 1973 (as part of the regularized, enriched/intensive six-year program at UTS). His year of intake was the first co-educational one at the UTS – where half of the available places were allotted to females – hence he was especially fortunate to have been accepted in that year, when there were 50 percent less spaces available for males. At that time, UTS was admitting a total of about 70 students a year. There were usually ten to twenty times the number of candidates writing the exam, as there were places available.
His studies continued into Grade 8, and then four years of study, then equivalent to the then-standard in Ontario five years of Grades 9-13. (At UTS, there was at that time, a system of designation of Levels I-IV.) Among his studies, there was Latin (which included Ancient Roman history and culture), and Philosophy, with readings from Plato and Aristotle. One of his notable achievements at UTS was a "Tour of India" Project Graphic Arts Design, 1974 (106 pp.), for which he received a mark of A+ and special recognition from the teacher.
He graduated as part of the Class of ’79 (in June 1979), as an Ontario Scholar. He also won the DuVernet Award for Best Essay in Senior-Year Philosophy. Among some fond memories of UTS were his participation in the Southern Ontario Model (United Nations) Assembly (SOMA), especially the occasion when he was part of a two-man delegation representing the Republic of Peru. His most memorable teachers (among several others) were probably Norah Maier (English), Neil Maclean (History), Lynda Duckworth (Geography), Stewart Bull (English and History), Fred Speed (Science), and Dr. W. R. H. Montgomery (English and Philosophy).
Mark Wegierski has attended the UTS Alumni Dinners in 1989 (10th Anniversary); 2014 (35th Anniversary); and 2019 (40th Anniversary). He also attended the UTS Centennial Celebration in 2010.
The tuition fees for UTS in the 1970s were a distinctly affordable $300 a year. Now, in the 2020s, owing to a variety of circumstances, including the cancellation of all public funding for UTS by the left-wing Ontario New Democratic Party government under Premier Bob Rae in April 1993 (mainly because of accusations of “elitism”) they are about $29,800 a year, plus a $7,500 enrollment fee.
Around 1971, Mark Wegierski accompanied his great-aunt, Irena Krawczyk, at an exhibition at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, where she was demonstrating the art of Polish paper cut-outs (wycinanka).
Around November 1971, Mark Wegierski, his parents, and maternal grandmother, attended a Polish trade show on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. He filled out tickets for a Lottery Contest which required participants to answer ten questions about Poland that could be discovered at the trade show, to be accepted. Several days later, he attended the Lottery Draw, and his grandmother’s name was drawn for the First Prize, which was a round trip from New York to Warsaw on LOT Polish airlines. In the summer of 1972, Mark Wegierski travelled with his grandmother to New York, and then on to Warsaw. After the vacation in Poland, he returned to New York, and then on to Toronto.
Around 1973, Mark Wegierski participated in the Krakow pavilion at the Caravan multicultural festival in Toronto. He was selling Polish folk-art over the duration of the festival, dressed in Krakovian folk-costume.
In June 1974, Mark Wegierski achieved his Graduation Diploma (Grade 8) of the Tadeusz Kosciuszko (Saturday) Polish School (Toronto), Polish Alliance of Canada, with an over-all result of Very Good (5). He had completed the equivalent of 8 grades in six years. He especially remembers starring in two end-of-school-year plays, once as the renowned Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, and another time as Puss in Boots.
Around 1975, Mark Wegierski accompanied his mother, Henryka Wegierski, on a one-week trip to Ottawa, where she was demonstrating the art of Polish paper cut-outs (wycinanka) at a national cultural exhibition, sponsored by the Canadian federal government.
In June 1976, Mark Wegierski went with his mother on a trip to southern Spain and Morocco. He saw such sights as the Alhambra in Granada, the Cathedral in Cordoba, and the Straits of Gibraltar.
On July 27, 1976, Mark Wegierski attended the Brazil-Poland football (soccer) match, at Varsity Stadium in Toronto, part of the 1976 Summer Olympics, being held mostly in Montreal. (Poland won 2:0.)
In August 1976, Mark Wegierski travelled by car with his parents and cousin, Piotr Lorek (who was visiting from Poland), in a trip to Kingston, Ontario; the Thousand Islands; Ottawa; Montreal; and the Adirondacks in the United States.
Around 1977, Mark Wegierski and his parents helped in the organization of the Lowicz pavilion in a multicultural event in Oshawa (similar to Caravan in Toronto). (Lowicz is a town renowned for its folklore in the Mazowsze (Mazovia) region of central Poland.) He accompanied Miss Lowicz to the main hall of the event (at the conclusion of the festival), riding in the front right seat of an open-topped car, wearing the uniform of the Polish Napoleonic ulans or lancers (from the early nineteenth century). Miss Lowicz was sitting high in the back seat, dressed in Mazovian folk-costume, waving to the crowds.
Some of Mark Wegierski’s awards for Polish language writing included:
Adam Mickiewicz Foundation (Canada) Polish-Language Writing Contests for Youth of Polish Descent – 1971 (Second Prize); 1972 (First Prize); 1973 (First Prize); 1975 (First Prize);
Wladyslaw Reymont Foundation (Canada) "500th Anniversary of Birth of Copernicus" Writing Contest (Place Polonaise) - First Prize (April 1973);
"Poland: Homeland of Copernicus" Writing Contest (Alliance for Persons of Polish Descent Living Abroad) - Second Prize (January 1974).
He also completed a "Copernicus 500th Anniversary" Project Graphic Arts Design, 1973 (30 pp.). This design, including original photography, received an award from the Alliance for Persons of Polish Descent Living Abroad.
Mark Wegierski published "Trzynascie listów z Polski." (Thirteen Letters from Poland) in Panorama Polska (Panorama of Poland) 1974 no 8 (no 217) (August 1974), pp. 33-34. This was a reportage and travelogue of his trip to Poland in the summer of 1973.
Also, during the summer of 1975, Mark Wegierski had completed a Polish Ethnography Study Program (235 hours/college level) based in Kielce, Poland, for which he received a Diploma.
In August 1975, he received an Honourary Diploma for Participation in the First Polish Poetry and Prose Dramatic Recital Festival for Persons of Polish Descent Living Abroad, held in Torun, Poland.
In August 1977, he received a Diploma of Recognition for Propagating the Beauty of the Polish Language and Popularizing Polish Literature, at the Second Polish Poetry and Prose Dramatic Recital Festival for Persons of Polish Descent Living Abroad, also held in Torun, Poland. During his stay at the festival, Mark Wegierski was briefly interviewed for a Polish television news program, and the interview was broadcast within a few days’ time. The festival was also written about in a number of Polish magazines and newspapers, and a photo of Mark Wegierski (and other festival participants) appeared in some of them.
In 1976-1978, Mark Wegierski was a Founding Member and Secretary of the Copernicus Youth Group at the Polish Alliance of Canada, Branch No. 5, 28 Heintzman Street, Toronto.
In September 1979 - May 1980, Mark Wegierski was a member of the Rhapsody Polish Theatre Group (led by Jacek Medwecki) at the Polish Combatants’ Association (SPK) Branch No. 20 (Polish Cultural Centre), 206 Beverley Street, Toronto.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.