History of Polish Community in Brantford
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History of Polish Community in Brantford

The year 1774 marked the beginning of Polish immigration to Canada. Fleeing the oppression of Russia, Prussia and Austria, great numbers of patriots moved to Canada to enjoy the freedom it had to offer. They become the vanguard of succeeding waves of farmers and artisans who saw Canada not only as a great, free country, but also as a land of tremendous opportunity. The early Polish immigrants settled mostly in the Western Provinces. Later second and third generation immigrants, moved East to Ontario and Quebec, attracted by the growing industry and the general economic development of these two provinces.
Brantford as a major centre of farm-implement manufacture, lured many Polish immigrants. Outside of isolated cases of families settling in Brantford before 1900, the first great wave of immigrants from the "cradle of Slavdom" to Brantford came at the turn of our century, and continued until the start of World War I. From 1902 we find in the Brantford Directory names of families, which are well known today. To list a few of these pioneering families, there were, the Neziols, Kempas, Bulanda, Rosieckis, Konefals, Dostals, Guminiaks, Sekulas, Ciochs, Rejdychs, Wiaceks, Floreks, Murzyns, Mrozs, Stachurskis, Porembas, Dudlinskis, and Bialkowskis.  Others, as the Tatkos, Cempuras, Losinskis, Gancarszyks, Majdas, Golanskis, Szrameks and Wisniewskis, have disappeared from the Brantford scene.

This was already a sizeable community. It warranted in 1905 the existence of a little grocery store on Sydenham Street, just a few doors from Pearl Street. The proud owner of that store was a Mr. Korbut.

Naturally, these were difficult years for the Polish community. Not knowing the English language, the Polish immigrant still managed to find work so that he could raise his family and build for himself a home. In those early years you would find him working at Canada Glue Co. and Brantford Cordage Co. A greater number were hired by the old Pratt and Letchworth Co, later known as the Canadian Car and Foundry Co. The Pole worked hard and enjoyed what this great country had to offer. He was happy to be here.
Being predominantly adherents of the Roman Catholic Church, the Poles have always been close to their priests. In her turn, the Roman Catholic Church has endeavored to be solicitous about the spiritual welfare of her Polish people. Wherever they have gone, the Church has tried to follow quickly.

And so it was in Brantford. Through the efforts of the Rev. E.M. Brady, vicar at St. Basil's church of Brantford, the services of the Rev. L.M. Dogorski, a Polish priest from Pennsylvania, U.S.A., were obtained for the Polish community in 1916. He took up his residence at the church of St. Basil's, using the old chapel, and later the old parish hall, for his services.

The Poles were assuming now a growing identity in the community. They even had their own little Polish dairy - The Beaver Dairy, owned by Mr. Walter Szramek - and a grocery store, on the North East corner of Pearl and Niagara Streets. The proprietor was Mr. Frank Wisniewski, who, by the way, was also the first owner of Model-T Ford among the Poles.
In the following years, through the united effort of the Polish people, a little wooden church was built on Lyon's Avenue, just North of Terrace Hill Street. Here Father Dogorski gathered his little flock and conducted his services. At first the church prospered. But the signs of trouble were in the air in the year 1927. Prices began to sky-rocket while wages remained at their low level. Brantford began to feel the first winds of the depression which was to engulf the world after 1928. In this atmosphere, the little Polish church, burdened by a heavy financial debt, which carried with it near to 8% interest payments, had to close its doors. It was the summer of 1927. The Polish community, many of whose members were themselves heavily in debt because of the homes they had bought or were in the process of building could offer no help.
Fortunately, the Polish Mutual Benefit and Friendly Society of Brantford, founded earlier that year, stepped in to fill the vacuum caused by the closing of the church. On February 17, 1927, seven members gathered in the Polish Hall of St. John's Ukrainian church at 100 Terrace Hill Street to consider organizing a club that would serve to unite citizens of Polish descent in their social and cultural activities. The meeting proved successful. Five of these men became the original executive of this society, namely: President, John Neziol; Thomas Mech, recording secretary; Frank Mroz, financial secretary; Bronislaw Spychay, treasurer; and Peter Wiacek, organizer. The other two who helped in the planning were Andrew Mroz and Michael Neziol.

The membership of the Polish Mutual Benefit and Friendly Society increased steadily and in October, 1927 a Young People's Group was added to the organization. A Polish language school was established and, with other social activities, was conducted in rented halls through the city.

The year 1928 saw the start of the second great wave of Polish immigration to Brantford, and this flow was to continue, although on a minor scale, until the beginning of World War II. With so much new blood entering the Polish community in 1929, some members of the Young People's Group decided to form another youth group, called at that time, The White Eagle Association. It was from this Association, as we shall see lather, that Branch No.10 of the Polish Alliance of Canada came into existence in Brantford.

In the meantime, in October, 1931, The Polish Mutual Benefit and Friendly Society purchased property at 152 and 154 Pearl Street for future development as a Polish Hall. The existing building at 154 Pearl Street became the temporary location for the meetings of the Society and its Polish school. In May, 1932, a Provincial charter as a Mutual Benefit Society was obtained with the valuable assistance of Mr. W. Ross Macdonald, popular local lawyer and future M.P. and Senator. Seventy-five members qualified for the available sick and death benefit insurance. This number, of course, did not include the other social members, as well as the Young Peoples Group.

On December 7, 1933, the members decided to erect a new building which would serve as a Polish Hall. The building committee was headed by Adam Gadawski, who arranged with the Summerhayes Construction Company to erect the building at a cost of $6,500. The construction company provided three skilled workmen, but most of the work was done without remuneration by members of the Society.

On November 25, 1934, the new Polish Hall was officially opened by the Polish Consul General, Dr. Adamkiewicz, who came from Ottawa for the occasion. The building was blessed by a priest from St. Basil's church in the presence of its president, Michael Gielarowski, the Polish Vice-consul J. Pawlica of Winnipeg, the Rev. Dr. T. Tarasiuk of Hamilton, and some 350 members of the Polish community. The opening ceremonies featured a parade to the cenotaph, where eight veterans in Polish cavalry uniforms joined with police officers under Chief Stanley as a guard of honour, while the Consul General placed a wreath. The banquet that evening was attended by many local dignitaries and out-of-town guests, as well as several hundred members of the local Polish community.

Due to the zeal of its members, the Society grew steadily, despite the difficult economic conditions of the mid-thirties. Key events held at that time in the new Polish  Hall included a memorial service following the death of Poland's popular Marshal Joseph Pilsudski in 1935, and the burning of the mortgage in March, 1937.

As the Second World War loomed on the horizon, the Polish Mutual Benefit Society became increasingly occupied with providing financial assistance to Poland. On july 21, 1939, a cheque for $560 was sent to the Polish government via the Polish Consulate in Montreal. With the outbreak of war, a charter (C-980) was obtained from the Canadian Government authorizing the collection of funds to assist Poland. In June, 1941, an ambulance was purchased and presented to the Polish Army units training in Windsor, Ontario. A cheque for $202 followed in October of the same year. Four young men joined the Polish Army as volunteers.

Besides regular gifts from the Society to members of the Armed Forces, various campaigns between 1939 and 1946 provided funds in excess of $25,000 to such needy groups as the Polish Army, prisoners of war, the Red Cross, the victims of the Battle of Britain, as well as the Greek and Chinese refugees. Following the war another $5,000 was sent to aid the needy in Poland.

In the Fifties and the sixties, the Polish Mutual Benefit and Friendly Society continued to take an active part in the local support of Polish culture and traditions. Scholarship funds were set aside for the education of the sons and daughters of its members. In 1958 the members decided to enlarge and modernize their hall at a cost of $65,000 and the project was completed in October, 1960. On the occasion of the burning of the mortgage in October, 1964, a donation of $1500 was pledged to the Community Civic Arena Fund. In 1966 active support was given to the committee responsible for the commemoration of Poland's Millennium of Christianity and similar enthusiasm during Canadian Centennial Year. The Polish Mutual Benefit and Friendly Society was truly shown itself to be a responsible element in the Polish community of Brantford. Mr. Philip Kolodziejak was the President of the Society.


Did You Know?
Brantford Polish Mutual Benefit and Friendly Society was first established  in 1927 and incorporated in 1932.
John Neziol
Thomas Mech
Frank Mroz
Bronislaw Spychej
Peter Wiacek
Andrew Mroz
Michael Neziol
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Brantford's Polish Senior Citizens 1967 Centennial Year
Front Row: Mrs. S. Wolski, 88; Mrs. A. Smierciak, 90; Mrs. A Drozdz, 77.
Second Row: Mr. Peter Wiacek, 77; Mr. Stanley Neziol, 93; Mr. Joseph Wiacek, 82.