Decorated Polish ace aviator Janusz Zurakowski fled Fascist and Communist dictatorships in Poland and took up temporary residence in France and England before he put down roots in Canada. Zurakowski moved to Canada in 1952 when he was recruited by the AVRO Aircraft company as a test pilot for the Canadian jet, the AVRO Arrow. Zurakowski eventually moved his family to the region of Kaszuby in Northern Ontario, the place of the first Polish settlement in Canada.
The first migration of Poles to Canada took place between 1854 and 1915.(1) Immigrants were mainly family groups from villages and small towns. For many centuries Poland had played a prominent role in Europe. Towards the end of the 18th century, however, Poland lost its independence due to the expansionist policies of its neighbours, Russia, Prussia and Austria. Over the course of three successive partitions in 1772, 1793 and 1796, all the Polish territories were annexed by those three powers.(2)
It was the assimilation of Polish territories, religious persecution and poor economy that followed which pushed Poles to emigrate. The majority of the immigrants were hard-working peasants. They received land grants or bought lots in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta where they built farms and settled as homesteaders.(3) Others worked on the construction of the railway or in the coal mines.(4)
Subsequent immigrants from Poland came in four main waves. Between 1916 and 1939, Poles left an independent Poland and settled mostly on the Prairies.(5) In 1944, a new wave of Poles came to Canada after their country had been devastated by WWII. Most of these immigrants were members of the Polish Armed Forces -- Janusz Zurakowski among them -- and had fought side by side with the Allied Forces against Nazi Germany. When the war ended and Poland was handed over to the Communists, a great number of the ex servicemen and their families decided not to go back to their country. They settled all over the world; many of them choosing Canada. This wave of immigrants differed greatly from previous ones -- a large proportion came from cities and were well educated with technical and scientific qualifications. Over 50 percent of the WWII immigrants from Poland settled in Ontario.(6)
From 1957-1963, immigrants continued to arrive directly from Poland. The final wave, from 1981 to the 1990s, brought an estimated 119,000 Poles to Canada, mostly to Ontario. These most recent immigrants were again motivated by economic and political crisis in Poland. There is currently an estimated 468,000 Poles living in Canada.(7)
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