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Ontario Trillium Foundation Helps Preserve Ethnic Archives and Polish-Canadian Identity

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The Canadian Polish Research Institute, a small not-for-profit organization dedicated to research on Poles in Canada, was formed in Toronto in 1956. Since this time, the Institute has expanded both its vast collections of archival materials and its membership. Through its operations, the Institute has made significant contributions to the study of the Polish community in Canada. It has provided academics and researchers with the materials they need to study the Polish ethnic group in Canada and has published works that contribute to our understanding of Poles in Canada. In order to ensure that it remains a valuable resource in the future, the Institute has recently begun digitizing its archives.

Enabled by a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Institute is in the process of making digital copies of its archival materials to ensure that they are preserved and made available to a vast audience. The Ontario Trillium Foundation, who is one of Canada’s leading foundations and non-profit and charitable organizations’ benefactor, awarded the Canadian Polish Research Institute with an equipment grant of $13,500. Owing to this funding, the Institute has bought a digital microfilm scanner and computer hardware and software that are necessary for scanning the archives that the Institute possesses. There are microfilms of Polish-language newspapers and rare sociological and historical books that are as old as hundred years old.

okolowicz1913 0000Some publications, for instance, "W sprawie wychodźstwa do Kanady" [Immigration to Canada Matters], a book originally published in 1913, "Kanada – kraj przyszłości" [Canada – a country of the future] from 1925, and "Czas" [The Times] from 1923-1928 have already been scanned. In the future, the Institute is going to give online access to these invaluable archival materials and develop closer relations with universities and Canadian archives. Since there are almost a hundred microfilms, the project of scanning, indexing and publishing the files will take some time. Without the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s support, this initiative would not be possible at all. Therefore, I am glad I have been given the chance to be a part of it.
When I first got involved with the Institute this summer, I did not know much about its operations. I had just graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Anthropology and Polish Studies and was looking for a volunteer position that catered to my interests. My father had read an article in a Polish newspaper about the Institute and informed me of its existence. This prompted me to do a Google search which led me to the Institute’s website. I sent an e-mail to the address provided on the website and shortly thereafter, I met with Joanna Lustanski, the Institute’s president. I soon discovered that the Institute had a number of opportunities to offer me and I, likewise, had skills that I believed could help with the projects.
Since this first meeting, I have had the opportunity to get involved in a number of ways. The tasks that I have helped with have varied from very practical jobs, such as scanning microfilms of pre-war Polish-Canadian newspapers, to more challenging and intellectually stimulating jobs, such as translating memoirs from Polish to English. Within the Institute, I have been entrusted with tasks that are challenging and important to the operations of the Institute. The members of the Institute have shown great faith in my abilities and this has inspired me to accept the many opportunities that the Institute has offered me.

In addition, my relationship to the Institute has also helped me to continue to think about my identity as a Polish-Canadian. Since I was born in Canada, there have been times in my life when my identity as a Polish-Canadian was only tied to the fact that my family descends from Poland. When I entered the department of Polish Language and Literature at the University of Toronto, I quickly developed a passion for Polish literature and film. My interest in Polish culture became very closely tied with my identity and I began to realize that, for me, being Polish goes beyond just having roots in Poland. Now that I have become involved in the Canadian Polish Research Institute, I am beginning to realize that being active in the Polish community in Toronto is also an important part of my identity as a Polish–Canadian.

Camilla Szczesniak

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