Manitoba History: Climbing the Vertical Mosaic: Winnipeg’s Polish Community Between the Two World Wars

by Daniel Stone
History Department, University of Winnipeg

Number 87, Summer 2018

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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In 1965, the Canadian sociologist, John Porter, published The Vertical Mosaic to acknowledge the concept of the mosaic popularized by John Murray Gibbon in 1938 and to modify it. [1] Gibbon’s book, Canadian Mosaic: The Making of a Northern Nation, described the background and contributions of ethnic groups composing Canada, implying that the pieces of the mosaic were equal. [2] In contrast, Porter demonstrated the existence of hierarchies within Canadian society. With regard to ethnicity, he showed the superior position of the English and French “charter peoples” over New Canadians. [3]

Porter’s findings could scarcely have surprised Winnipeg Poles and the other national groups that added colour and substance to the mosaic. The City of Winnipeg had elected a few “ethnic” aldermen before the Second World War, but the groups that came to Canada after the 1880s made little impact on provincial and national political, economic, and intellectual life until the late 1960s. The rough edges of prejudice and overt discrimination had worn away by that time and equality was not far off, but Poles and other East European immigrants had to travel a long road to achieve it. [4]

In 1909, J. S. Woodsworth’s book on immigration, Strangers Within our Gates, proclaimed that, “Poles and police courts seem to be invariably connected in this country, and it is difficult for us to think of the people of this nationality other than in that vague class of undesirable citizens.” A. R. Ford, Woodsworth’s guest author for the Polish section, went on to explain that negative qualities stemmed from difficult circumstances rather than innate bad character or inferior genes, but he still thought that Polish immigrants to Canada were “far from the best class”: poor, uneducated, and “usually Catholics of a fanatical type.” In time, Ford assured his readers, Poles would become “industrious and thrifty farmers” in Canada as they had been in Europe. [5]

Ford and Woodsworth viewed Poles more favourably than many Anglo-Canadians did. The best-selling author, Ralph Connor (Charles Gordon) published a novel, The Foreigner, also in 1909, portraying Winnipeg’s North End in purely negative terms. His few identifiably Polish characters are drunken, violent, and dirty. [6] Connor at least thought that Poles could eventually reach Anglo-Canadian standards, especially farmers, but many Anglo-Canadians doubted even that. W. D. Scott, Superintendent of Immigration, believed that Poles and other recent immigrants from Austro-Hungarian Galicia actually chose to “live in crowded, insanitary and usually filthy quarters, [and] exist . . . upon food and under conditions which a self-respecting Canadian would refuse to tolerate.” Furthermore, they “enter ... into unfair competition with the wage-earners of Canada and constitute a source of danger to the national life.” [7] Conservative MP, Thomas Sproule, went further, claiming that New Canadians “were imbued with instincts and natures which have not in themselves any tendency to elevate humanity but rather to lower it in every particular.” [8]

The first Poles came to Manitoba with the Selkirk Settlers in 1817, but numbers remained small until mass migration began around 1890. In 1901, 1,674 Poles lived in Manitoba but the number increased sharply by 1911 to 22,321, and reached a high point of 40,243 in 1931. [9] About one-third lived in the City of Winnipeg, comprising 5.9% of the population. Canadian policy viewed Polish immigration, along with the immigration of other east Europeans, with mixed feelings. Since too few of the favoured immigrants, Britishers, Scandinavians, Germans, and Americans, came to populate the empty Prairies, Canada turned to the “stalwart peasant in a sheep-skin coat.” Big business, especially the railways, lobbied to maximize immigration and the Canadian Government responded by accepting central and eastern Europeans with few restrictions. Its reluctance can be seen in the interwar classification of these New Canadians as “non-preferred.” [10] Negative stereotypes persisted and, as an Anglo-Canadian reporter observed, “ours was a society with a well-defined pecking order of prejudice” in which “anyone with a Ukrainian or Polish name had almost no chance of employment except rough manual labour.” [11]

Members of Winnipeg’s Polish community dressed in traditional and military costumes for their float in Canada’s Diamond Jubilee parade on 1 July 1927.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Sokol Collection 75, N9780

Despite prejudice, the seeds of the integration of Winnipeg Poles into the Canadian fabric can be seen in the interwar generation of Poles born or raised in Canada who grew up speaking English, attending high school, and, in some cases, graduating from university and professional schools. A few hundred skilled craftsmen, artisans, small business owners, and professionals created the nucleus of an emerging middle class, mostly providing food services and shoe repair to North End residents although a few ventured farther afield. Fifty of them formed the short-lived Association of Polish Merchants, Industrialists and Artisans in 1933. [12] The organization stopped meeting two years later but existed on paper until 1938. [13] Officers included a wicker furniture manufacturer, a restaurant owner, a dry-cleaning proprietor, and the owner of a shoe store. [14]

Polish professionals seemed to move up in society by stages. For example, Dr. Francis Rybak came from Poland as a small child, earned a teaching certificate, taught school in rural Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and then studied medicine and surgery at McGill and Cook County Hospital in Chicago. [15] Dr. Frank Sędziak started as a construction engineer; his Polish-born wife had graduated with honours from the Sorbonne. [16] Paulin Tadeusz (P.T.) Andree, known primarily as a choir director, earned his living as Chief Registrar of the Winnipeg Welfare Department. Andree had been born in Poland and immigrated as a child. He started work as a hospital investigator for the Associated Charities and later taught shops in rural schools. Returning to Winnipeg as a teacher, he subsequently managed the Leland Hotel and returned to City employ where he worked his way up through the ranks in the Welfare Department. [17] Bronislaw Zeglinski also worked in the City Welfare Department before he transferred to the provincial civil service and became Inspector of Estates of the Insane. [18] Leon S. Garczyński, the Polish-raised and French-educated secretary of the Association of Polish Professionals and Businessmen, worked for the Polish Immigrant Aid Society in Winnipeg and also as a journalist, but later left the city to find new opportunities. He had already published a book on Canada before coming to Manitoba. [19]

Socio-economic and educational progress in the interwar period, although modest, provided Winnipeg Poles with the skills to reach out to the broader community. The Polish consulate assisted, carrying out instructions from Warsaw to help local communities maintain ties with the Old Country and, at the same time, improve their position within the Canadian social and political system. [20] Favourable coverage was assured in Czas, “The Polish Times,” which the community purchased from a private owner in 1931 and which survived the Depression thanks to a loan from Polish government sources. [21] The local Polish clergy offered no opposition to secular initiatives, reflecting some easing of the tensions that had marked previous generations when the Oblate-owned Gazeta Katolicka [The Catholic Gazette] furiously attacked Czas and the independent Sokol organization. [22] Gazeta supported the secular community programs described below, although it provided somewhat less coverage.

Community activists found that some members of the Anglo-Canadian Establishment eagerly embraced diversity. Starting in 1909, J. S. Woodsworth organized Peoples’ Forums in the North End that brought Anglo-Canadian and New Canadian speakers and choirs together for mutual understanding. [23] Participants in the Winnipeg 1919 Conference on Citizenship sought to define a distinct Canadian identity that began to emerge during the First World War. While most participants concentrated on including urban and farm workers and some advocated for women, speakers like Dr. John McKay, Principal of Manitoba College, and John Boyd, President of the Canadian National League, praised the cultural heritages brought by New Canadians and looked forward to incorporating them into a greater Canadian synthesis. [24]

In the 1920s and 1930s, some members of the English-speaking establishment actively worked to open pathways for Poles and other New Canadians, and helped to construct the new mosaic. Key figures included the author of Canadian Mosaic, John Murray Gibbon, a Scot born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), who came to Canada in 1913 as a publicist for the Canadian Pacific Railway; Minnie Campbell, an Ontario-born social activist; and Watson Kirkconnell, an English professor at Wesley College (reorganized in 1938 as United College and now the University of Winnipeg). Important political figures such as Premier John Bracken and Lt.-Governor William J. Tupper lent their names and presence to some of the initiatives.

The 1927 Diamond Jubilee

The first major opportunity for the Winnipeg Polish community to show itself in a positive light came with Canada’s Diamond Jubilee in 1927. [25] Winnipeg celebrated the sixtieth Dominion Day with a mammoth parade of 175 floats starting at Main Street and Broadway and ending in Assiniboine Park. [26] The Polish community float, decorated with red and white flowers, the Polish national colours, was drawn by a matched team of four horses and accompanied by lancers on horseback and infantry, all in historic dress. An allegorical figure of Poland surrounded by girls in Cracow costume waved to the crowd while other Poles placed victors’ wreaths on French, Canadian, American, and Polish soldiers. In Assiniboine Park, a gymnastic club, part of the patriotic Sokol Society whose Winnipeg branch was founded in 1906, entertained onlookers and “convinced many Canadians of the prowess and strength of Polish youth.” [27] The Sokol choir approached the stage to the strains of a Paderewski march played by the Princess Patricia Regimental Band. To conclude the festivities, Sir John A. Macdonald’s daughter stepped up to the dais as “the nations of Winnipeg’s cosmopolitan citizenship grouped themselves around her in their multi-colored costumes” while the band played the Maple Leaf Forever and God Save the King. This final act recalled “the great Olympic games of Europe in the mingling of nationalities and races.” [28]

The 1928 New Canadian Folk Songand Handicraft Festival

The following year, John Murray Gibbon organized the New Canadian Folk Song and Handicraft Festival in Winnipeg, expanding on his 1927 festivals in Quebec City and paving the way for 13 more across Canada in succeeding years. [29] To introduce the Winnipeg festival, which ran from 19–23 June, large newspaper advertisements boasted that, “the Festival will eclipse any show you have ever seen [while] as an education in constructive citizenship, its importance and value cannot be exaggerated.” Fifteen “Racial Groups in picturesque costumes,” in the vocabulary of the day, presented songs and dances in the Walker Theatre while the Royal Alexandra Hotel provided space for handicrafts exhibits organized by the Canadian Handicrafts Guild. [30]

Three Sokol girls in Krakowski costumes, 1935.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Sokol Collection 52, N9757

Gibbon enlisted the newly founded Manitoba Branch of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild, which arranged Polish participation with B. B. Dubienski and Katherine Rybak. The exhibit offered handcrafted goods for sale and showed how they were made. Julia Andree, the exhibit’s organizer, made a striking impression in folk dress as she demonstrated lace-making and other crafts. Polish craftswomen won prizes for their embroidered napkins, costumed dolls, and small rugs. [31]

Newspapers found it easier to describe the concerts and they enthusiastically told their readers how much New Canadians were contributing to Canadian culture. [32] The Sokol folk dance ensemble, possibly the first Polish dance ensemble in North America and Europe, formed in 1925 when Helena Garczyńska, a ballet dancer from Lwów, Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine), moved to Winnipeg. When Garczyńska left Winnipeg after a few years, choir director P. T. Andree took over the ensemble and later turned it over to Garczyńska’s students. The Sokol ensemble made a colourful and attractive presence at many interwar festivals and won national and international awards after the Second World War. [33] The dances that Laura Bolton recorded for the National Film Board in 1942 probably differed little from earlier performances. [34]

Polish participation in Gibbon’s festival brought, as Gazeta Katolicka boasted, “recognition and sympathy for us ...among elements that are foreign to us” because they saw “the high level of culture” that New Canadians brought. The newspaper predicted that this good opinion “will be reflected on each of us” in time. [35] The Polish-language press did not exaggerate. Even Ralph Connor was moved to admit he had been wrong to look “upon the Poles as husky, dirty labourers whose chief entertainment was drink.” He now recognized them as “delightful, cultivated people.” [36]

The Free Press joined Connor in applauding the Polish performers, reporting that “their famous dance, the ‘Mazur’, was done by four handsome and fleet-footed couples, who certainly knew how to interpret in their dancing with the ‘fire’ and ‘dash’ for which Polish music is famous.” Furthermore, the large Polish choir “show[ed] great volume, and [was] splendid in their sustained singing. Music critic “L. S.” found “their melodious folk-songs...very stirring, and a climactic end to the programme.” [37] The Winnipeg Tribune agreed that, “fire and verve stamped the folk dancing of the Polish group” and found that the choir “pictured mankind in a ... defiant and stirring mood, full of measured confidence.” [38]

Praise for the Polish performers reflected general enthusiasm for the efforts of the New Canadians. Before the festival opened, the Free Press had predicted that the fifteen participating groups would “take forth from their storehouses what the centuries and the genius of their race has given them for an inheritance” and show that they had come to Canada “bearing gifts that are without price.” [39] After attending the first performances, the Free Pressconfirmed that “something very vital and precious and old was recorded in Winnipeg last night when a number of ‘New Canadians’ offered their programme of song and dance” reflecting a “rich accumulation of the ages [that] had been gathered up before it was submerged in general Canadianness.” The programs provided an education to many of us “Old Canadians’ [who] had not fully realized what gifts these new-comers from Europe had to offer our civilization.” [40]

The Polish Branch of theCanadian Handicrafts Guild

The Canadian Handicrafts Guild had been founded in Montreal in 1905 to encourage handicrafts for both their aesthetic qualities and for their usefulness in helping poor women earn money by using their domestic skills. A western tour helped the organizers appreciate “the very extraordinary and varied amount of skill and knowledge among men and women of different nations and classes,” so the Guild’s 1906 constitution gave direction to “encourage and preserve any such crafts and industries possessed by new settlers.” [41] To this end, the Manitoba Branch established fourteen mainly ethnic sub-branches. [42] The organization provided a point of contact between members of the Polish community and highly placed members of the Canadian establishment such as Guild presidents Effie Dafoe, Mrs. Robert England, and Bessie Bulman. Patrons included Alice Bracken, the wife of Premier John Bracken, Margaret Tupper, the wife of Lt.-Governor W. J. Tupper, and University of Manitoba President, Dr. Sidney Smith and his wife.

Mrs. Jadwiga Zwolski, wife of the Polish Consul, established the Polish branch in 1928 with the help of Mary McLeod, soon to be the second president of the full Manitoba branch. [43] An accomplished crafter, Mrs. Zwolski took the leading role in running the Polish branch; later Polish consular wives performed only honourary duties. Mrs. Zwolski understood that the Winnipeg Poles, although “good workers,” had to learn how to produce for the market, so she imported saleable designs from Poland for them to execute. [44] In April 1932, Mrs. Zwolski gave a substantial and well-researched talk to the full Manitoba Branch that the English-language press reported. In it, she discussed Poland’s folk craft tradition and the measures that the national government had taken to revive it after the First World War such as teaching crafts in trade schools. [45] When she left, the central Manitoba Branch made her its first honourary member and gave her a parting gift of a hammered silver bracelet crafted by a Haida artist. [46]

Members of the Sokol Handicraft Guild display socks and scarves they have knitted for the war effort, 1943.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Sokol Collection 71, N9776

The Guild integrated the Polish and other sub-branches into its activities with broadly-based exhibits such as a child-oriented Christmas sale at the Hudson’s Bay Company store in 1930-1931 at which the Polish group made paper chains, bowls from eggshells, cards and other decorations. Youngsters in Polish costume gathered by a Christmas tree. Czas thought that the exhibit “made a very fine impression, convincing the local community of the good taste and hard work of Polish children.” [47] Not long after, the Hudson’s Bay Company hosted a juried exhibit that included work from outside Winnipeg. [48]

Mrs. Zwolski was succeeded as President by Amy Ventress Dubienski, an Ontario Scot who had married a Pole, B. B. Dubienski. It seems unlikely that Mrs. Dubienski spoke Polish but she still played an active role in the Polish community by chairing Polish organizations. She also devoted herself to local, provincial, and national activities within the Anglican Church and the Y.W.C.A. [49] After Amy Dubienski’s term in office, leadership passed to women raised within the Winnipeg Polish community: Maria Drelenkiewicz and Magdalena Dybek. [50]

Sokol scouts stage a gymnastic demonstration during Manitoba’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in 1930, repeating its 1927 performance. This was the Polish community’s only contribution to the 1930 event.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Sokol Collection 65, N9770

The Polish Branch participated in exhibits throughout the 1930s and the war years, and took its turn staffing the store that the Manitoba Branch opened in the Power Building on Portage and Vaughan; the store moved to the Paris Building during the War. [51] During the interwar period, the Polish Branch exhibited at the Fort Garry Hotel, the Hudson’s Bay Company, Eaton’s, the Civic Auditorium, the Agricultural College, the Y.W.C.A., the Polish Consulate, the Sokol Hall, and in private homes. English-language Guild officers attended Polish events. The English-language press covered them, praising the craft demonstrations and the finished products on display. [52] Members of the Polish branch devoted themselves to war work after 1939 and the branch appears to have faded away, although Polish handicrafts formed part of a Handicraft Guild exhibit in 1949. [53]

To ensure that their craft tradition would continue in Winnipeg, the Polish Branch offered classes in embroidery, sewing, and Polish-style decoration at the Sokol Hall; it also supplied Brandon Poles with teachers for their classes. Meetings of the Polish Branch were mostly held in private homes at first, mostly in the North End, but sometimes in Wolseley, south Osborne, and the West End. The group met regularly at Sokol Hall on Manitoba Avenue as it became better established. [54]

Similar to craft movements from Appalachia to Zakopane, the Manitoba branch of the Handicraft Guild hoped to improve crafters’ economic situation as well as promote the craft aesthetic. Modernization had put rural people under economic pressure and the situation became acute during the Great Depression as farm incomes plunged. Crafts production based on domestic skills offered a simple way to make some money. Rural residents formed Women’s Institutes across Manitoba in 1910 and brought other groups to Winnipeg to create the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada in 1919, which fell, under the jurisdiction of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture Extension division. [55] The Women’s Institute in Manitoba played a role in establishing the Manitoba Branch of the Handicrafts Guild from the very beginning. Through the Handicrafts Guild, the Women’s Institute aimed to establish “contact with the foreign people living about them, who have beautiful handwork as well as the knowledge of how it is made.” [56] The Manitoba Agricultural College hosted a major crafts exhibit in 1933 at which Polish artisans demonstrated distaff spinning and linen weaving. The Institute News praised the Polish embroidery for its brilliant and varied colours, noting with approval that “a young girl” demonstrated the stitching. [57]

The Polish-Canadian Friendship Society

The Polish relationship with Winnipeg’s Anglo-Canadian establishment took another step forward in 1934 when Watson Kirkconnell, an English professor at Wesley College (now the University of Winnipeg), founded the Canadian-Polish Friendship Society. The aim of the society was “the furtherance of mutual appreciation of cultural achievements of both Poland and Canada” by holding concerts and lectures and, if funds permitted, by making scholarship awards. [58]

Kirkconnell was an unlikely Polonophile. Born and raised in Port Hope, Ontario, he studied Mathematics and Classics at Queen’s University and did Economics at Oxford after military service in the First World War. [59] Kirkconnell returned to Canada on a cheap ticket that threw him in with Ukrainians and Poles who, he discovered, were “cultured fugitives from Bolshevik terror,” spoke several languages, and had “prodigious” musical talents. [60] In Winnipeg, Kirkconnell expanded his knowledge of New Canadians, first with Icelanders, then with Hungarians, and later with Poles and Ukrainians. By 1930, Kirkconnell had published well-received translations of poetry from fifty different languages and dialects. [61] The Polish government recognized his 1936 publication, A Golden Treasury of Polish Lyrics, with the order of Polonia Restituta. A human dynamo, Kirkconnell also served on numerous boards including the Canadian Authors Association, the Prisoners’ Aid Society, and the Board of Jewish-Gentile Relationships. He also kept in close, if unofficial, touch with other New Canadian groups, and still found time to serve as a lay leader in the Baptist Church, play golf and tennis, hike and skate. [62]

Kirkconnell embraced the cause of helping New Canadians find a home in the developing mosaic. He collected, read, and translated the literature that they wrote in Canada and discussed it in his publications. When groups such as the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) and Canadian Baptists invited him to speak, he told them that “The Canadian Ideal” should be “Unity in Diversity.” [63] With the “richness in music, design, literature and folk arts of the new Canadians” Kirkconnell felt certain that “they would be absorbed into the increasing grandeur and importance of a greater Canada.” [64]

Kirkconnell’s fellow officers in the Friendship Society included First Vice-President Bernard Bronislaw (B. B.) Dubienski, who grew up in Austrian Poland and studied in Vienna before coming to Canada to study at McGill University and the University of Manitoba. Dubienski’s legal work won him appointment as King’s Counsel in 1944 and he played an important role in convincing the Canadian government to admit Polish veterans of the Second World War who had served in the British forces. Perhaps his most important achievement within the Polish community came as founder and first president of the Federation of Polish Societies in Canada (Zjednoczenie Zrzeszeń Polskich w Kanadzie) which united thirty-eight groups in 1933. [65] The Friendship Society’s Second Vice-President, Mrs. Colin H. Campbell, as Minnie Campbell preferred to call herself, was Anglo-Ontarian by birth and the widow of a prominent Manitoba politician. Minnie Campbell involved herself in philanthropic activities on behalf of Winnipeg’s poor and, like Kirkconnell, thought highly of New Canadians. [66] The Secretary, Robert England, the Canadian National Railway Supervisor of Immigrants, was another supporter of New Canadians. [67] Lt.-Gov. W. J. Tupper, Premier John Bracken, University of Manitoba President Sidney Smith, Monsignor W. Morton, and Polish Consul Jan Pawlica served as patrons. [68] Officers were re-elected with little change throughout the decade.

Minnie Julia Beatrice Campbell (1862–1952), along with other members of Winnipeg’s Anglophone establishment, worked actively through the 1920s and 1930s to open pathways for Poles and other New Canadians. She was the only Canadian woman to be awarded the Golden Cross of Merit by Poland for her relief service during the Second World War.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, M. J. B. Campbell Fonds, P2506A/4

The society met six times a year at United College, St. Paul’s College, the Royal Alexandra Hotel, and the music studio of a member who liked to play Chopin. Most meetings featured talks on Polish and Canadian subjects, often paired, such as scientists Maria Sk?odowska-Curie and Sir William Osler; physicists Nicholas Copernicus and John Stanley Plaskett; and novelists Joseph Conrad and Frederick Phillip Grove. Other evenings were devoted to Poland such as B. B. Dubienski’s illustrated talk about his recent trip to historical Cracow and Warsaw, and the bustling new Baltic port of Gdynia. [69] The group devoted another evening to first-hand reports on the 25th-anniversary scouting Jamboree in Poland. [70] The most colourful evening must have been the presentation on Polish mountaineer culture by Dr. Stefan Jarosz of the Jagiellonian University, Cracow, who wore the distinctive regional garb. [71] One of the few evenings featuring Canada alone was the talk on foreign policy by Professor J. W. Pickersgill of Wesley College, who joined the Prime Minister’s Office not long after. [72] A few purely social events were scheduled for members and guests “from the most prominent Canadian spheres.” [73]

Kirkconnell’s departure from Winnipeg in summer 1940 to take a teaching post at McMaster University. Czas headlined “Friend of Poland Leaves Winnipeg.” Soon after, 18 Polish organizations organized a farewell banquet for the man who had done so much to bring “the Polish and Anglo-Saxon communities together” [74] Minnie Campbell also organized a reception for Kirkconnell that Lt.-Gov. Tupper, Premier Bracken, and other dignitaries from the Anglo-Canadian and ethnic communities attended. [75]

Springtime in Poland Balls

The success of the Canadian-Polish Friendship Society must have encouraged the Polish members to organize their own major event to impress the “Anglosaxons”. The Federation of Polish Societies held its first “Springtime in Poland” (Wiosna w Polsce) in the Crystal Ballroom of the Royal Alexandra Hotel on 24 April 1935. Organizers encouraged attendees to wear either evening dress or folk costume, which would create “the most colorful scene possible and a Polish atmosphere.” Guests danced the popular dances of the day along with a few Polish dances that needed little instruction. During a break, thirty Sokol dancers performed the Mazur, the Krakowiak, and a Mountaineers Dance.” The organizers enlisted the Tuppers, the Brackens, the Sidney Smiths, and Minnie Campbell to greet guests as well as Polish Consul, Jan Pawlica and his wife. [76] Polish consuls and Manitoba officials continued to support the balls in later years, as well. [77]

“Springtime in Poland” achieved the organizers’ aim of providing an informal setting to meet the “important part of the Anglo Saxon community which has a great deal of influence of forming opinion and directing the course of public affairs.” The organizers also hoped to introduce Polish youth to the wider Canadian world. Czas editorialized that “the Ball was not dance entertainment, it was a notable propaganda success that might have to be exaggerated for the present but which will prove its truth in the future.” [78] The failure to raise significant sums for Polish schools, the ostensible aim of this and succeeding balls, escaped criticism. None cleared more than $250 after expenses. [79]

The Winnipeg Tribune failed to cover the first two balls but voiced its approval in 1937 with the headline: “GLAMOR OF SPRING IN POLAND CARRIED OUT IN DECORATIONS AT THE ANNUAL POLISH BALL”. It praised the dancers for “the accuracy and grace with which the[y] went through the maze of difficult steps ... in their brilliant costumes designed by Mrs. M. Starck.” [80] The Tribune offered detailed fashion descriptions of “many beautiful gowns,” mostly worn by the Anglo-Canadian women. [81] The Free Press and the Tribune praised the Polish spring-themed decorations as in 1943, when peach blossoms festooned the hall along with all the flags of the allied nations. [82] The 1944 Ball was cancelled, ostensibly due to wartime shortages but most likely because the Federation of Polish Societies moved its headquarters to Toronto, which had recently displaced Winnipeg as Canada’s largest concentration of Polish-Canadians. [83]

The Marshal Pilsudski Branch of the IODE

The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) provided another meeting place for the Polish community and the Anglo-Canadian elite. Founded in Britain to rally support for the Boer War, the Canadian organization formed in 1900, followed by a provincial branch in 1912. [84] Mrs. Campbell played a prominent role and doubtless directed the Manitoba Branch to “Canadianize ... the Foreigner in our midst” who was “pouring into the Western Provinces at the rate of a thousand a day.” After some discussion, the group decided to concentrate on “work for the New-Canadian child [since work with children had already] become a large part of the Order’s work.” [85]

Nineteen Polish-Canadian women founded The Marshal Pilsudski branch in 1935 in honour of the leader who had dominated Independent Poland until his death only a few months before. At a ceremony held in the Polish Consulate, Mrs. Campbell presented the chapter with its charter and a Union Jack. Margaret Tupper, Alice Bracken, and leading members of the Order served tea. [86] The first regular meeting took place soon at the home of Dr. and Mrs. William Chasny on Machray Avenue, a little east of Main Street, at which Mrs. Pawlica and Minnie Campbell were chosen honorary regent and vice-regent; the business officers were all Winnipeg Poles. The new organization formed working committees to look after local Poles in hospital, especially veterans, and for Empire study. [87] After the Consul and his wife moved to another posting, the regency passed to Amy Dubienski, who received the municipal and provincial regents, prominent members of Anglo-Canadian society, along with Polish members, at her home on Assiniboine Avenue for the first anniversary tea. [88] This pattern continued as long as the branch existed.

Over the next several years, the Pilsudski branch of the IODE undertook community-oriented activities along traditional lines. It sent Christmas gifts to its adopted rural school in a Polish area, probably Arbakka in southeast Manitoba, and later contributed books to the Young People’s Club in the Polish town of Hadashville, MB. Other philanthropic activities included sending charity to the Indian Raj. [89] After the War, the ladies helped teach English to newly arrived Polish ex-servicemen and sent parcels to Poles who chose to remain in Britain instead of returning to Communist-controlled Poland. The Pilsudski branch’s last recorded meeting took place in 1949. [90]

Second World War

The outbreak of the Second World War cemented the progress that the Winnipeg Polish community had made towards acceptance in the interwar period. Poles received a great deal of sympathetic attention for their countrymen’s gallant fight against an overwhelming invasion force as newspapers reported stories such as “Horror Tales; Murder and Torture of Priests Alleged” and “Escaping from Poland’s Horror.” [91] As Allied armies invaded the continent, stories increasingly portrayed Poles as valiant allies and not as victims. Front-page headlines now read “[General] Alexander Lauds Poles’ Gallantry” and “Hard-Riding Poles Fight Against Old Foes.” [92]

Canadian Poles threw themselves into the war effort with full commitment and set up a Polish Defence Committee to collect relief supplies. Local Poles could count on a favourable response when they organized tag days to assist refugees, [93] and “pot Hitler” days when participants donated scrap metal by throwing it at an effigy of the German dictator. [94] Mayor John Queen and military representatives joined Poles, Czechoslovaks, and Ukrainians at the Cenotaph on Memorial Boulevard in commemorating a 15th-century victory by the Polish-Lithuanian State over the Teutonic Knights. [95] The Polish

Branch of the Handicrafts Guild and the Marshal Pilsudski branch of the IODE knitted sweaters for Polish soldiers serving in Polish units of the British Army in Scotland and the Pilsudski branch shared in a nation-wide effort by the IODE to raise funds for a Canadian bomber. [96] The English-language Winnipeg press gave banner front-page headlines to the posthumous award of a Victoria Cross to Andrew Mynarski, the Winnipeg-born Pole, shortly after the war ended. [97] For decades afterwards, Soviet domination of Poland and the Cold War kept Canadians sympathetic to Polish causes.

The Polish contribution to Canada’s and Britain’s war effort and favourable public sentiment must have influenced the decision to accept Polish immigrants after the war. Once again, Canada was reluctant to open its doors but finally admitted Polish veterans from the British armed forces as farmers in 1946-1947. Several hundred settled in Winnipeg, many with higher educations and all with extensive experience in the English-speaking world. Most had already joined the Polish Combatants Society while in Europe and others affiliated in Winnipeg. [98] Accommodation between New Canadians and Anglo-Canadians took major strides forward in the 1950s. [99]


Cultural and organizational efforts between the two World Wars by Winnipeg’s Polish community paved the way for their full acceptance by the Canadian Establishment that came in the decades following 1945. Popularly regarded as undesirable for many years and labelled by the government as non-preferred between the two world wars, Winnipeg’s Polish community sought involvement with the Anglo-Canadian establishment through the 1927 Diamond Jubilee, the 1928 Handicrafts and Folk Dance Festival, the 1930 Polish branch of the Handicrafts Guild, the 1934 Canadian-Polish Friendship Society, the 1935

Marshal Pilsudski Branch of the IODE, and the Springtime in Poland balls (1935-1943). The result was a gradual ascent on the vertical mosaic of Canadian life, or rather a flattening of the mosaic, so that Polish Canadians gained recognition for the qualities that they brought to Canada. John Murray Gibbon and a host of Anglo-Canadians such as Minnie J. B. Campbell, Mary McLeod, and Watson Kirkconnell reached out to Polish Canadians as people whose national origins and culture enriched Canadian life. Political leaders such as Premier John Bracken and Lieutenant-Governor William J. Tupper lent their name and their presence to a Canada that celebrated multicultural identity.


1. John Porter, The Vertical Mosaic: An Analysis of Social Class and Power in Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965.

2. John Murray Gibbon, Canadian Mosaic. The Making of a Northern Nation, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1938. Gibbon did not invent the term. See pp. viii–x.

3. Porter, pp. 69–73ff. Porter himself opposed the emerging multiculturalism policy, judging that emphasizing ethnic origins would keep most New Canadians at a disadvantage. See also Warren Clement, “Power, Ethnicity, and Class: Reflections Thirty Years after The Vertical Mosaic,” in The Vertical Mosaic Revisited, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998, pp. 41–42. The present article argues the opposite, namely that the expression of ethnic cultural forms aided the integration of Poles in Interwar Winnipeg.

4. T. Peterson, “Ethnic and Class Politics in Manitoba", in Martin Robin, ed., Canadian Provincial Politics: The Party Systems of the Ten Provinces, Scarborough, ON: Prentice-Hall, 1972, pp. 108–109, 114–115.

5. A. R. F. [Ford], “The Poles in Western Canada” in James S. Woodsworth, Strangers Within Our Gates: Or Coming Canadians, Toronto: Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, Canada, 1909, pp. 139–142.

6. Ralph Connor, The Foreigner: A Tale of Saskatchewan, Toronto: Westminster, 1909, pp. 49, 88–91, 97; J. Lee Thompson and John H. Thompson, “Ralph Connor and the Canadian Identity,” Queen’s Quarterly LXXIX:2 (Summer 1972), pp. 166–168.

7. W. D. Scott, “Immigration and Population” in Canada and its Provinces: A History of the Canadian People and Their Institutions, Adam Shortt and Arthur G. Doughty, eds., Toronto: Edinburgh University Press, 1913, vol. 7, p. 560.

8. Quoted in Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy, 2nd edition, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010, p. 133.

9. Victor Turek, Poles in Manitoba, Toronto: Polish Alliance Press, 1967, pp. 71, 109.

10. Scott , ”Immigration and Population,” v. 7, pp. 577–579; Kelley and Trebilcock, pp. 122, 129, 141, 192, 198.

11. James Gray, The Winter Years, Toronto: Macmillan, 1966, p. 128; See Royden Loewen and Gerald D. Friesen, Immigrants in Prairie Cities: Ethnic Diversity in Twentieth-Century Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009, especially chapter 2, “Patterns of Conflict and Adjustment in Winnipeg,” by Gerald D. Friesen.

12. Turek, Poles in Manitoba, pp. 104, 117, 122–123, 293, fn. 29; Winnipeg Free Press (hereafter WFP), 29 December 1965, p. 25.

13. Polacy Zagranicą. Organ Rady Organizacyjnej Polaków w Kanadzie V:1 (January 1934), p. 50 and VII (July 1936), p. 26 [Poles Abroad: The Journal of the Organizing Council of Poles from Abroad]; Letter by B. Białuski in Czas, 2 June 1936, p. 5; Turek, Poles in Manitoba, p. 199.

14. Henderson’s Winnipeg Directory, 1935, pp. 382, 781, 1126, 1195.

15. Czas, 11 August 1926, p. 8 and 7 December 1985, p. 55.

16. Winnipeg Evening Tribune (hereafter WT), 27 January 1934, p. 12.

17. WFP, 29 December 1965, p. 29.

18. WFP, 18 October 1949, p. 16.

19. “List of Contributors,” University of Toronto Quarterly 16:1 (October 1946), p. 1; Henderson’s Directory (1929), p. 900; Turek, The Polish-Language Press, pp. 129-132, 156 (note 79); Leon Garczyński, Co to jest Kanada [What is Canada], (Warsaw, 1930).

20. Turek, Poles in Manitoba, pp. 142, 189; Anna Reczyńska, Emigracja Polska do Kanady w Okresie Międzywojennym, p. 125; Tadeusz Brzeziński, “Opieka kulturalna nad wychodźtwem” [Cultural Support for the Emigration], Kwartalnik Instytutu Naukowego do BadańEmigracji i Kolonizacji, vol. 1 (1926), pp. 75–79.

21. Victor Turek, The Polish Language Press in Canada: Its History and Bibliographical List (Toronto: Polish Alliance Press, 1962), pp. 111–112, 151–152 (note 40).

22. Turek, Poles in Manitoba, pp. 167-168; Gabriela Pawlus Kasprzak, “Patriotic Priests and Religious Consuls: Religion and Nationalism in the Polish Diaspora, 1918–1939,” Polish American Studies, 68: 2 (Autumn 2011), pp. 22–25ff.

23. Olive Ziegler, Woodsworth: Social Pioneer, Toronto: Ontario Publishing Co., 1934, pp. 46–48.

24. Tom Mitchell, “The Manufacture of Souls of Good Quality’: Reconstruction, the 1919 Winnipeg Conference on Citizenship, and the New Order after the Great War.” Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 31, No. 4, Winter 1996–1997, esp. pages 11–13 of ProQuest version (accessed 12 March 2018).

25. Robert Cupido, “Public Commemoration and Ethnocultural Assertion: Winnipeg Celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation,” Urban History Review / Revue d’histoire urbaine, Vol. 38, No. 2, (Spring 2010 printemps), pp. 64–74

26. WFP, 2 July 1927, p. 2; Archives of Manitoba, Polish Gymnastics Society, Sokol Photograph Collection #3, 46, 75.

27. Czas, 6 July 1927, p. 8.

28. WT, 2 July 1927, p. 1.

29. McLeod, p. 453.

30. WFP, 1 June 1928, p. 15, 12 June, p. 8, 13 June, p. 8; WT, 12 June 1928, p. 8, 13 June, p. 9, 14 June, p. 10; Macleod, p. 457.

31. Dot From, The History of the Crafts Guild of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Crafts Guild of Manitoba, 2001, p. 7; Czas, 6 June 1928, p. 3, 22 August, p. 8; 29 December 1942, p. 3; photographs in Archives of Manitoba, Polish Gymnastics Organization, Sokol #14 and 25, for example.

32. Contemporary historians are generally less enthusiastic and concentrate on the inauthentic nature of stage performances. Stuart Henderson states that Gibbon’s “mosaic relied on a Canada constructed of a people that did not exist, could not exist—a Folk comprised of difference, antiquated simplicity, and pre modern comprehensibility.” Stuart Henderson, “‘While there is Still Time...’ J. Murray Gibbon and the Spectacle of Difference in Three CPR Folk Festivals, 1928 1931,” Journal of Canadian Studies. Vol. 39, No. 1 (Winter 2005). Accessed on ProQuest; Antonia Smith, “Cement for the Canadian Mosaic. Performing Canadian Citizenship in the Work of John Murray Gibbon” in Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts,Vol. 1, no. 1, Transnational Migration, Race, and Citizenship (Autumn, 2007), p. 48.

33. Alexandra Sosnowski and Stanislaw L. Lemanski, Winnipeg’s Falcons: The History of the Polish Gymnastic Association Sokol, Nest No. 1 (Winnipeg 1991). Unpublished manuscript. Chapter 6, “The Choir, Dance Group and Dance School,” Dr. Christine Polimeni, “A History of Polish Sokol Dance Ensemble,” (accessed 12 June 2017).

34. (accessed 12 June 2017).

35. Gazeta Katolicka, 27 June 1928, p. 8, 4 July 1928, p. 8.

36. Gibbon, Canadian Mosaic, p. 277.

37. WFP, 23 June 1928, p. 3.

38. WT, 25 June 1928, p. 3.

39. WFP, 16 June 1928, p. 11.

40. WFP, 21 June 1928, p. 3.

41. Ellen Mary Easton McLeod, In Good Hands: The Women of the Canadian Crafts Guild, Montreal: Published for Carleton University by McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999. On multiculturalism, see pp. 300, 311, 382–384, 439–444.

42. The fourteen groups included a British group, Ontario group, French-Canadian group, and “Indian” group. Several were short-lived but others remained active for years. “Crafts Guild of Manitoba,” Records description for Crafts Guild of Manitoba, AM, Binder #7.

43. Czas, 12 December 1942, p. 3.

44. 20 November 1930, Executive Committee Minutes, January 1928–May 1934, Crafts Guild of Manitoba, Archive of Manitoba U-15-9 File 20; WFP, 12 March 1932, p. 25.

45. WT, 9 April 1932, p. 10.

46. From, p. 24; Archive of Manitoba P6200 3/16, Canadian Handicrafts Guild Manitoba Branch Polish Group 1932–1940 contains copies of Mrs. Zwolski’s talk and two news clippings.

47. Czas, 24 December 1930, p. 8.

48. Czas, 28 January 1931, p. 8.

49. WFP, October 12, 1938; (accessed 1.28.2017)[link broken as of 14/04/2021]; From p. 24.

50. Czas, 29 December 1942, p. 3.

51. From, pp. 33–49ff.

52. For example, WT, 24 March 1936, p. 7; WFP, 13 June 1938, p. 7.

53. Czas, 8 June 1949, p. 8.

54. Czas, 26 February 1934, p. 8, 24 September 1935, p. 7, 16 January 1936, p. 8, 12 January 1942, p. 3.

55. Henry Gordon Green, (ed.) A Heritage of Canadian Handicrafts (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, [1967]), pp. 146–159; (accessed 30 April 2018).

56. “A Way Out to Larger Fields,” Institute News, May 1929, p. 1. Another article proposed a rural festival similar to the CPR festival in Winnipeg the previous year, p. 3; From, p. 7.

57. “Report on 8th Biennial Convention,” Institute News, November 1933.

58. WFP, 12 February 1934, p. 4

59. Judith Woodsworth, “Watson Kirkconnell and the ‘Undoing of Babel’: A Little-Known Case in Canadian Translation History,” La traduction litéraire au Canada (45:1), April 2000, pp. 13-28; A. Gerald Bedford, The University of Winnipeg. A History of the Founding Colleges, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975, pp. 158-160. J. R. C. Perkin (ed.), The Undoing of Babel: Watson Kirkconnell—The Man and His Work, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1975.

60. Watson Kirkconnell, A Slice of Canada: Memoirs, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967, p. 259.

61. WT, 13 October 1928, p. 46; European Elegies, Ottawa: Graphic Publishers, 1928.

62. The Wanderer, “I First Saw,” WT, 30 November [no year], news clipping in the University of Winnipeg Archive, Watson Kirkconnell papers, IN-17; 88-16, Series 3 file 1.

63. WT, 28 August 1929, p. 8.

64. WT, 4 June 1931, p. 5; Woodsworth, pp. 24–25.

65. (accessed 3.31.2017)[link broken as of 14/04/2021]; Turek, Poles in Manitoba, pp. 40–47, 279 (note 73).

66. Kurt Korneski, “Minnie J. B. Campbell, Reform, and Empire,” Prairie Metropolis, Kurt Korneski, “Minnie J. B. Campbell, Reform, and Empire,” Prairie Metropolis, Esyllt W. Jones and Gerald Friesen, eds., University of Manitoba Press, 2009, pp. 18–43. The article also appears in Korneski, Race, Nation, and Reform Ideology in Winnipeg, 1880s–1920s,Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015.

67. Susan Wurtele, “Apostle of Citizenship’ Robert England, the CNR and Prairie Settlement", in Reflections from the Prairies: Geographical Essays, H. John Selwood and John C. Lehr, eds., Winnipeg: Department of Geography, University of Winnipeg, 1992, pp. 14–25.

68. WFP, 28 February 1935, p. 5.

69. Report of Jan Pawlica, Polish consul in Winnipeg, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Benedykt Heydenkorn, The Organizational Structure of the Polish Canadian Community, Toronto: Canadian Polish Research Institute, 1979, pp. 98–99 (Appendix 12); WT, 10 November 1934, p. 2. Most of the events were also reported in the Winnipeg press: WFP, 28 February 1935, p. 5, WT, 10 November 1934, p. 2, 29 January 1935, p. 3.

70. WT, 15 October 1935, p. 8.

71. WFP, 31 October 1935, p. 2.

72. WFP, 2 April 1937, p. 12.

73. Report of Jan Pawlica in Heydenkorn, The Organizational Structure of the Polish Canadian Community, p. 99.

74. Czas, 18 June, p. 8, 23 July 1940, p. 8; WFP, 19 July 1940, p. 16.

75. WT, 11 July 1940, p. 11.

76. Czas, 26 March 1935, p. 8, 16 April, p. 8.

77. For example, Lt.-Gov. and Mrs. McWilliams led the Grand March in 1941 as did Premier and Mrs. Stuart Garson in 1943: WFP, 26 April 1941, p. 10, 1 May 1943, p. 9.

78. Czas, 23 April 1935, p. 8, 30 April, p. 8.

79. Czas, 14 May 1940, p. 4, 28 April 1942, p. 8.

80. WT, 8 April 1937, p. 6. Both the Tribune and Free Press spelled words like “glamour” in the American fashion in the 1930s.

81. WFP, 9 April 1937, p. 14.

82. WT, 22 April 1934, p. 12, 15 April 1939, p. 7, 6 April 1940, p. 9, 29 March 1941, p. 9, 14 March 1942, p. 9, 1 May 1943, p. 3.

83. WT, 18 March 1944, p. 11.

84. [Mrs. Frank P. McCurdy]. The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire. Golden Jubilee 1900–1950, Toronto: Privately Printed, 1950, pp. 1–3, 9.

85. Archives of Manitoba, “The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire and Children of the Empire. A Brief Historical Sketch by Minnie J. B. Campbell. 1929,” Archives of Manitoba, P2503/5 Campbell, M. J. B. fonds, p. 9.

86. WFP, 12 November 1935, p. 8.

87. WFP, 28 November 1935, p. 8.

88. WFP, 5 December 1936, p. 13.

89. WFP, 7 January 1938, p. 8; 5 March 1942, p. 10.

90. WFP, 21 February 1947, p. 9; 25 February 1949, p. 14.

91. WFP, 29 January 1940, p. 1, 20 July, p. 41.

92. WFP, 22 May 1944, p. 1, 12 August, p. 7.

93. WFP, 14 September 1940, p. 4.

94. Jody Perrun, The Patriotic Consensus. Unity, Morale, and the Second World War in Winnipeg, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2014, pp. 137, 148.

95. WFP, 18 July 1941, p. 11.

96. Czas, 7 January 1941, p. 5; WFP, 21 June 1940, p. 3, 5 March 1942, p. 10.

97. WFP, 11 October 1946, p. 1; WT, 11 October 1946, p. 1; Czas, 16 November 1946, p. 1.

98. Jarochowska-de Kosko, Maria Anna, A Shared History. Canada and the Polish Diaspora 1940–1970, White Rock: Maj, 2016, pp. 159–163 and 249–255. Short autobiographies of Polish Combatants appear in Kazimierz Patalas, ed., Providence Watching: Journeys from Wartorn Poland to the Canadian Prairies, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2003.

99. Loewen and Friesen, Immigrants in Prairie Cities, pp. 77–97.

We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

Page revised: 14 April 2021