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Roncesvalles residents mourn Polish tragedy

Posted by Guest Contributor / April 15, 2010

roncesvalles mournsAs a displaced citizen myself, I am struck this week by the difficulty of mourning one's country while living in another. While Canada has declared Thursday to be a day of national mourning, Poland will be wearing black for quite some time, as will - I imagine - in Roncesvalles, the neighborhood in Toronto that many Poles call home.

The loss of such a huge number of Poland's top officials in a plane crash less than a week ago seems so cruelly deepened by their circumstances of travel; the President and entourage were flying to Russia to commemorate the lives of 22,000 Poles slaughtered in the Katyn Massacre in 1940, an event only recently accepted by the Russian government as a political crime. It's devastating to add any more names to the list of the dead - a list that has long plagued Poland.

polish in torontoJust off of Roncesvalles and further south at the meeting place of King and Queen Streets, monuments like the statue of Pope John Paul II at the Polish Credit Union and the Katyn Memorial have collected bouquets, candles, and votives from mourners. The Katyn Memorial is an especially poignant recipient of tribute having been originally commissioned by Toronto in 1980 to mark the remembrance of the very same tragic Katyn massacre.

roncesvalles polishAs a city full of immigrants, I'm sure that more than the 300,000 people in Toronto who share Polish heritage can imagine the difficulty of mourning an immense loss for your homeland while living abroad. No doubt it has been a struggle for Haitians over the year, for Chinese presently, and for countless others. But perhaps some solace can be found in community, especially the immigrant communities found throughout Toronto.

It's a fortunate thing that monuments like Pope John Paul II and the Katyn Memorial, while easily overlooked landmarks in tucked away locations, can mean something important to the immigrants living in community around them. I'm grateful that Toronto can offer this small condolence. Furthermore, I hope that these tragedies can move toward greater good and greater reconciliation between Poland and Russia.

Writing and photos by Cassie McDaniel.



p o r / April 15, 2010 at 09:57 am
thanks for that .. good article.
p o r / April 15, 2010 at 09:57 am
thanks for that.. good article
Richard S / April 15, 2010 at 10:34 am
My sympathy and condolences to all those effected, and my admiration to the country and its people for pulling together no matter what their political beliefs; I strongly doubt that wold happen in the US.

And I never knew that around 10% of Toronto has Polish heritage? I never knew that.
Mark / April 15, 2010 at 10:46 am
These make-shift memorials are a powerful expression of the community's yearning to connect directly with both victims and mourners back in Poland. A fantastic article which pays tribute to the sincere sympathies of those living in Roncesvalles Village. Thank you.
Mark replying to a comment from Richard S / April 15, 2010 at 10:57 am
I think the 300,000 figure is for Canada as a whole. I remember reading that a few days ago. The article said about a third of Canada's Polish live in Toronto.
Sean C / April 15, 2010 at 01:03 pm
The front gates of the Polish embassy on Lake Shore have been receiving tributes too - just noticed it on my drive to work this morning.
Natalie replying to a comment from Mark / April 15, 2010 at 04:50 pm
As a whole there's a million Poles in Canada. In the Greater Toronto Area, there's about half of that. Majority now moving into Mississauga. Not sure exactly what the ratio is between Mississauga and Toronto, but there's a lot of us. lol.

Thanks for the article though.
Tom / April 16, 2010 at 07:12 am
That is one of the news stories from the past week that grabbed my attention. It's odd in the first place, I suppose, that so many high officials would have been entrusted to one flight. If I understand correctly, the pilot was advised not to try to land in bad weather -- but might have been getting instructions from a higher authority, aboard the aircraft.
Kinga replying to a comment from Mark / April 16, 2010 at 04:36 pm
I actually think the 300,000 figure is for the GTA area only.

It's much larger for Canada as a whole.

I'm not sure if this is still the case, but a few years ago the GTA has the second largest population of poles, after Chicago - outside of Poland.
M.C. / April 17, 2010 at 09:52 am
I'm surprised some commentators are pinching at numbers.* Its sad and de-humanizing.

Poles are not only mourning the lives lost in the plane wreck but the lives lost in the Katyn Massacre. This is where those flight passengers were going to: the commemoration of a terrible event that the Russian government has only just recently acknowledged as A. having happened and B. having the dark stripes of a political crime.

* There's this thing called the internet and Statistics Canada. And according to the 2001 census, "984,585 Canadians claim full or partial Polish ancestry." And first one to arrive on record was: Dominik Barcz in 1757.
Cassie McDaniel / April 17, 2010 at 01:04 pm
Thank you for all your comments. The figure in the article was taken from the linked CBC article which states, "There are about 300,000 people of Polish descent in Toronto and an estimated one million with Polish heritage across Canada." I'm not sure where they got their figure from, but in light of the nature of the article, I hope you all can forgive my lack of journalistic tenacity. In any case, it's a significant amount of people.
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