Editor’s note: The Current publishes this essay about our community by Seat of Wisdom College first-year student Elizabeth Jordan as it won the College’s 2017 literature prize. Click HERE for details of the 2017 St. Stanislav Kostka Bursaries
In a country so rich with varied cultures celebrating her 150th anniversary, it is fitting to delve into the unique settlement of Barry’s Bay, Ontario which existed even before the nation herself. The Polish immigrants who found their way here were set on establishing a society that would develop and grow within the traditions of their ancestral heritage. There is a Polish proverb observing that
Wherever you go, you can’t get rid of yourself.
While some things can be lost in translation through decades, it is interesting to see how the values of a simple, hard working farming life can thrive through generations and prompt others to flourish in a world that needs to be reconciled with God’s simplicity.
It was the year 1858 when the first group of Poles arrived in Canada and settled in Renfrew County, Ontario. The next year they would found the communities of Princetown (named after their first postmaster Adam Prince, but later changed to Wilno), Barry’s Bay, and Round Lake — all within the region they nostalgically referred to as “Kaszuby” after the area in Prussia, just north of Poland at the time, where they came from. To today’s tourists, this region is known as the picturesque Madawaska Valley, home to people who love small towns and simple living, and cottage country to those who visit a few times a year. To Kashubians, “Kaszuby” will remain a significant place of heritage, always reminding them of their beloved homeland which, tainted with political unrest and hostile living conditions, had to be abandoned. Given these circumstances, it is no wonder that these people were indeed clinging to God and their Catholic Faith for help and assurance while they rebuilt their lives as strangers in a strange land.
These first Kashubians of Canada were quick to establish themselves as a Faith-based colony. They founded Canada’s oldest Polish-language parish in 1876, which was originally named “St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish” after a patron of their homeland. The church is now known as St. Mary of Czestochowa, and is located in WIlno where it is a vibrant heritage landmark to this day.
Canada is privileged to have such a strong Polish community considering that Poland herself recently named Christ King over her land, and Mary Queen over her land. The Kashubian people’s contributions to society are indeed numerous. For example, the Madawaska Valley is still thriving with the values of Christianity, namely Catholicism. With roads and buildings still named after Saints and well-known Christians, the legacy of those first settlers continues, not to mention the good that has come from farming the land throughout 150 years. Even a Polish girl scout camp, named Bucze, has claimed land within the area, and is a popular location for Catholic retreats and camps. Furthermore, the many rolling hills and forest areas of the Madawaska Valley have paths with Catholics statues, prayers, and symbols of the Faith.
Altogether, it is a wonder that the small region of the Madawaska Valley can have such a deep history, abundant heritage, and thriving Catholic culture. In order to truly appreciate Canada, especially in this the 150th year of celebrating Confederation, it is important to recognize and be grateful for the fruit of a deeply Christian culture that the Polish people have established in northern Ontario.
Elizabeth Jordan (Photo submitted)
About the author: Born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, Elizabeth was homeschooled until her high school years at Waterloo Collegiate Institute. She is passionate about photography, the Pro-Life movement, music, and spreading joy, and hopes to pursue Interior Design after obtaining her degree at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College.