A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
Episodes Search Site Map The Series Partners White Pine White Pine Home


General History

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES, COMING TO CANADA

Poles, like other Slavic immigrants to Canada, experienced discrimination and prejudice as foreigners in a largely Anglo-Saxon land. The expression "damned Pollack" was part of the name-calling that was common, especially around school yards. Name-calling and fists were the two main weapons used against Polish immigrants because they were different, didn't fit in and didn't know the language.(8)

In the Polish region of Kaszuby in Northern Ontario, an area of settlement shared with early Irish pioneers, there was antagonism and rivalry between the two ethnic groups. The Poles were distinctively isolationist and didn't socialize much with non-Poles. The Irish were perhaps jealous of the Poles' industriousness, as they were known for doing exceptional jobs of breaking the land and building their community from the ground up.(9)

The Irish, however, had an obvious advantage over the Poles because of their ability to speak fluent English. The early Polish immigrants were illiterate, with little education. The isolation and burdens of survival prevented many of the first and second generation Polish Canadians from learning the English language. Being fluent in English significantly helped the Irish make contacts and connections with the authorities and increased their chances of getting official posts. The Irish frequently showed off their superiority by calling the Kaszubs "foreigners." In response, the Kaszubs assumed an attitude of solidarity which was reflected in a traditional war-cry, "Don't give in to the Irish."(10)

Polish Canadians also faced resentment and accusations of being "foreigners" during the 1920s labour unrest in the West. Some Polish immigrants had brought Marxist and Communist ideologies; the tenets of a leftist "radical movement" that had been seeking answers to the economic woes pervading Europe. During the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, for example, Eastern Europeans, Poles included, were the subject of vitriolic press attacks in which the strike was depicted as a "Red Plot" to overthrow the government with force. Since communism was evident mainly in Eastern Europe, and the prairies were inhabited by many Eastern Europeans, Canadians mistakenly suspected that the "foreigners" were behind the strike.(11)

Polish Communists who were active in Canada similarly found themselves in a tenuous position with the outbreak of WWII. The Communists had attributed all evils, including war, starvation, exploitation and inequality to "internationalistic capitalistic parasites." Hitler epitomized every evil of capitalism, while the Soviet Union was seen as the only true defender against Germany. When the idealized Soviet Union joined forces with Hitler in the destruction of Poland, the Polish Communist was seen and hated as a collaborator. A complicated nexus of political ties and disloyalties ensued, generating animosities and suspicions among and toward the larger Polish Canadian community.(12)

Footnotes:
1,3,5,6,7,13,14,16,17,18
The Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1998).

2,4,9
The Proud Inheritance, Ontario's Kaszuby, ed., Anna Zurakowska
(The Polish Heritage Institute-Kaszuby, Ottawa, 1991).

8
The Polish Canadians, by William Kurelek
(Tundra Books, Montreal, 1981).

11,12
The Polish People in Canada, by William Makowski
(Tundra Books, Montreal, 1987).

15
The Poles in Canada, by Ludwik Kos-Rabcewicz-Zubkowski
(Polish Alliance Press, Toronto, 1968).


Previous Page - - Next Page

Top of page.