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Creating Kashubia

Creating Kashubia: History, Memory, and Identity in Canada's First Polish Community

Joshua C. Blank
Copyright Date: 2016
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    Creating Kashubia
    Book Description:

    In recent years, over one million Canadians have claimed Polish heritage - a significant population increase since the first group of Poles came from Prussian-occupied Poland and settled in Wilno, Ontario, west of Ottawa in 1858. For over a century, descendants from this community thought of themselves as Polish, but this began to change in the 1980s due to the work of a descendant priest who emphasized the community’s origins in Poland’s Kashubia region. What resulted was the reinvention of ethnicity concurrent with a similar movement in northern Poland. Creating Kashubia chronicles more than one hundred and fifty years of history, identity, and memory and challenges the historiography of migration and settlement in the region. For decades, authors from outside Wilno, as well as community insiders, have written histories without using the other’s stores of knowledge. Joshua Blank combines primary archival material and oral history with national narratives and a rich secondary literature to reimagine the period. He examines the socio-political and religious forces in Prussia, delves into the world of emigrant recruitment, and analyzes the trans-Atlantic voyage. In doing so, Blank challenges old narratives and traces the refashioning of the community’s ethnic identity from Polish to Kashubian. An illuminating study, Creating Kashubia shows how changing identities and the politics of ethnic memory are locally situated yet transnationally influenced.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9851-5
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  4. FIGURES AND TABLES (pp. xiii-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION (pp. 3-16)

    Nestled in the westernmost section of Renfrew County, Ontario, are a handful of small communities founded primarily by Polish-Kashub settlers. Between 1858 and 1910, several small waves of peasants from the northern part of partitioned Poland settled near the present-day communities of Wilno and Barry’s Bay. The latter community is a village in the now-amalgamated Township of Madawaska Valley, about 200 kilometres west of Ottawa. Many of the 4,000 township residents trace their roots to nineteenth-century Irish and Polish settlers.¹ The hamlet of Wilno, a few kilometres east of Barry’s Bay, was recognized by the Province of Ontario in 1972...

  6. Part I Revisiting Historical Memory
    • 1 The Production of Knowledge and Canada’s First Polish Community (pp. 19-54)

      The first Polish community in Canada has long escaped the lens of historians. These settlers emigrated to Canada West during an episode of political instability before Confederation, and early Canadian historians paid more attention to the political deadlock in the Unionist period than to broader social questions. Despite making several appearances in theSessional Papers of the Province of Canadaduring the late 1850s and early 1860s, and in some correspondence within the Crown Lands Department, nineteenth-century documentation on the group is scarce. To complicate matters, the Poles who settled along the Opeongo left little written evidence.

      Although authors’ writings...

    • 2 Poverty, Piety, and Political Persecution (pp. 55-98)

      As Frank Thistlewaite argues, the arrival in the new world was often the starting point for early works on immigration. In many cases, the authors knew little about the homeland and constructed it as the other, the opposite of America. Bruno Ramirez has shown that studying the premigration phase often dispels the notion that the old-world rural communities were static and tranquil. Instead we see how many of these assumptions are mistaken because they were often “viewed through the lens of a static folk-society theory instead of through an historical analysis of a multivariate agrarian universe marked with more volatility...

    • 3 Migration Memories (pp. 99-131)

      Over the last fifty years, several narratives have been produced and attached to the migration of Polish-Kashubs to Canada via oral and written history. Some were uncorroborated literary constructions that took on a life of their own and have survived to the present day. Many passages in these narratives highlight a mournful uprooting from the homeland. This chapter identifies several of the narratives that, over time, have been attached to the Polish-Kashub migration. Although many of the claims are unsourced – thus making it hard to decipher the origins – and poorly researched, it becomes apparent that several local authors have not...

    • 4 Intending Settlers: T.P. French and His Guidebook (pp. 132-143)

      Although the motto on one of the logos displayed by the Wilno Heritage Society reads “Wiara I Wolnosc” (Faith and Freedom), the main reason the first wave of Polish-Kashub settlers came to Canada was to procure and cultivate land. However, the way in which authors and community members approach the question, “How did the Polish peasants know there was free land in Canada?” varies. Some authors do not mention this part of the process at all, approaching itex post factoonce the migrants had set foot in Canada. Some credit the Crown’s immigration agent William Wagner (though he was...

    • 5 Poor Land and Victorian Science (pp. 144-174)

      Yi-Fu Tuan wrote that space is a “symbol of freedom in the Western world. Space lies open; it suggests the future and invites action. On the negative side, space and freedom are a threat … To be open and free is to be exposed and vulnerable.”¹ After the Polish-Kashubs’ “escape” from occupied Poland, local historical memory marks the settlement period as one of great disappointment. Msgr Pick said that after settling the land a “great poverty” started.² The idea that the land had enough rocks to build many walls of China was written by Fr Dembski in Wilno and published...

  7. Part II Cultural Redefinition
    • 6 The Origins and Development of the Kashubian Label (pp. 177-209)

      As argued in chapter 1, local residents thought their ethnicity was Polish. Their churches, schools, and some postwar migrants from the homeland reinforced this. However, a second invention of ethnicity has happened more recently because of a body of knowledge that crossed the Atlantic. Despite the fact that several Polish postwar migrants attempted to educate locals about their Kashubian heritage, the second invention started when a local priest, Fr Rekowski, claimed in the 1980s and 1990s that the locals were not Polish. Building on his ideas, the Wilno Heritage Society was established in 1998. As a result, local authors, genealogists,...

    • 7 Legacies of Promotion: Cultural Recreation and the Wilno Heritage Society (pp. 210-237)

      Many organizations, societies, and learned individuals helped to develop the Kaszubian identity, create its language, and shape its culture. It was developed in Poland at the same time as the period of cultural redefinition in the area around Canada’s first Polish settlement. Of course, this period could not have been established without the efforts of authority figures and the newfound knowledge that they shared with the greater population. They can be divided into two categories: those with traditional authority (Fr Rekowski) and those with professional authority (Mask-Connolly and Shulist). As noted in chapter 1, notions of internal and external, insider...

  8. EPILOGUE (pp. 238-252)

    The history of the first Polish settlement in Canada is well-represented in books and other media, with many writings by host-culture and descendant authors. In recent years, the latter group has centred attention on the Polish-Kashub group. In the process of documenting and preserving these works, however, several key questions have been left unexplored, and authors have not critiqued the various migration and settlement narratives. To attend to these gaps in the historiography, this study expands and contextualizes the claims made by local authors, pastkeepers, and community boosters about the history of the community. The study also questions the narrative...

  9. APPENDIX: Emigrants from Prussian-Occupied Poland Who Settled on the Opeongo and Surrounding Townships (pp. 253-256)
  10. NOTES (pp. 257-312)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 313-342)
  12. INDEX (pp. 343-347)