Just prior to Christmas 2021, Etobicoke-Lakeshore MPP Christine Hogarth tabled legislation that passed in Ontario’s Legislature recognizing the Polish-Ontarian community’s historic contribution to building our province. Royal Assent was given by Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor, Elisabeth Dowdswell, on Thursday December 10, 2021, which forever establishes May as Polish Heritage Month in Ontario. Polish Heritage Month is an opportunity to educate Ontarians about the hardships that Polish Ontarians went through to achieve their liberty and underscore the significance of the Polish Canadian community in Ontario’s history.
This Bill was the first piece of legislation recognizing Polish Heritage Month in the history of Ontario. According to the 2016 census, some 524,000 Polish Canadians call Ontario home. That is far more than any other province. Ontario is home to nearly 524,000 Polish Canadians, who have lived in Ontario ever since the 19th century. Since then, people of Polish heritage have made significant contributions to a wide range of Ontario’s society, economy, politics, sports, science, and culture. Nearly 12,000 live in Etobicoke-Lakeshore alone.
An example of the deep roots of the Polish diaspora in Ontario is found in the township of Wilno in Renfrew County, Ontario. Most of the original settlers in the area came around 1858 from the Polish cultural region of Kashubia. Today the area remains vibrantly rooted in Polish culture with many Polish scouting camps located there. Interestingly, World War 2 Polish fighter ace Jan Zurokowski and later AVRO Arrow test pilot, made his home in Barry’s Bay. The settlement was established in 1864.
One of the most famous Polish immigrants to Ontario is Sir Casimir Gzowski. Casimir was an engineer and a lawyer by training. He was significant in building Ontario and Canada’s rail network, the Welland Canal and Yonge Street to name just a few major projects. He was also the first commissioner of the Niagara Parks Commission and Acting Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Relevant to the events of the present day, Sir Casimir fought in the November revolution against Russian aggression in the Polish uprising of the 1830–31. When the uprising was defeated, Casimir came to the US and then ultimately Canada.
The Polish people have a long history of democratic change and one of the key events in May commemorates Constitution Day in Poland. This was the implementation of the first democratic and progressive constitution in Europe on May 3rd 1791. This is the one of the most important dates in Poland’s history and marks the centuries long struggle for freedom and independence by the Polish people. This applies especially to Polish-Ontarians, whose ancestors fought for liberty while resisting centuries of invasion and aggression including most recently in the last century against Nazi and Soviet occupation.
“One reason I entered public life was to safeguard Ontario’s democratic tradition,” Hogarth said, when tabling An Act to Proclaim the Month of May as Polish Heritage Month. Poland has always had a democratic tradition and a desire for freedom. This history inspired me as I came to know the many accomplishments and contributions of Polish-Ontarians to the diverse cultural and economic fabric of this province. Polish Heritage Month will justly honour these contributions.”
Hogarth noted that her riding is home to several Polish Catholic churches, to Polish Cultural organization Polish National Union in Canada including the Consulate of the Republic of Poland. “I am very proud to have made this bill a reality on behalf of the Polish-Ontarian community in my riding and indeed across Ontario,” Hogarth concluded. “This May and every May afterward, all of Ontario will share in the celebration of Polish Heritage.”