Canada has a population of just 34 million and nearly one million of Canadians claim full or partial Polish ancestry. That’s a sizeable chunk of the population. But did you ever wonder how and where it all started?
The first significant group of Polish group-settlers was the Kaszubians (an ethnic group in northern Poland) who arrived in Canada in 1858. They settled in Renfrew County in Ontario and set up the communities of Wilno (the first Polish settlement), Barry’s Bay and Round Lake. The region, known as “Kaszuby” is considered a part of Ontario’s cottage country and is lush with forests, high hills and pristine lakes.
A Memory Plaque on top of Shrine Hill near the St. Mary Queen of Poland Church commemorates the location.
Of course where Polish people go churches follow. In 1859 Rev. Bronislaw Jankowski completed the community’s first church under the patronage of Polish Saint Stanislaus Kostka. Unfortunately, the church was completely destroyed by a fire in February 1936. However, undeterred, the community rallied to build another church that same year and on June 29th, 1937 doors opened to a new church blessed under the name of St. Mary, Queen of Poland.
Today, the area is still home to many Kashubian Poles. Every long weekend hundreds of additional Polish-Canadians make the trip “up north” to their cottages in the area they consider “Polish paradise.”
For more information check out the Polish Heritage website.