roncesvalles toronto

Toronto neighbourhood refusing to accept name change to street festival

A street festival has announced they're rebranding with a name change, and the neighbourhood where it takes place is in an uproar over it.

Roncesvalles was once known as one of Toronto's most Polish neighbourhoods, but people in the area have noticed it's been getting distinctly less and less Polish over the years. However, locals are arguing that doesn't mean the Roncesvalles Polish Festival should change its name to simply the "Roncesvalles Festival."

Polish restaurants and bakeries have gradually been disappearing from the area, to be replaced with various types of restaurants serving sushi, Italian, Thai and more. As people who hit up the Polish Fest know, their offerings have been incorporated into the festival over time too, spring rolls mingling with plates of pierogies in people's hands.

"Building on the long history of the Roncesvalles Polish Festival, we are sure to include fan favourites, like Polka and pierogi, in conjunction with a fresh focus to celebrate a broader range of local artists, musicians and, of course, food," reads a social media post from the official festival account.

While it's great to welcome new kinds of businesses to an area, a petition has been started to keep the name "Roncesvalles Polish Festival" as a way of preserving the history of the neighbourhood. Over 800 people have already signed.

"The Roncesvalles Polish Festival is the largest Polish festival in North America with over 350,000 annual visitors. By removing its 'Polish' character, the Roncesvalles BIA is erasing a symbol of Polish-Canadian culture and undermining Polish identity in Canada," reads the official website for the initiative.

"We ask the BIA to correct their name change decision by putting the word 'Polish' back in the Roncesvalles Polish Festival."

The creator of the website and petition, Mike Ostrowski, argues that the festival has its individual cultural identity to thank for those hundreds of thousands of visitors. He lives in the area, and attends and volunteers for the festival, and loves its multiculturalism.

"It offered a unique Polish culture theme while embracing the many other communities of Roncesvalles village," Ostrowski tells blogTO.

"Once the name is changed, the celebration of Polish culture will diminish until the festival becomes a generic capitalist festival, attended by few. The Polish community will not let this happen, hence the error of the name change must be corrected and the festival remain a Polish-themed festival."

He's planning to deliver the signatures and comments collected via the petition to the BIA and three levels of government.

"The response has been overwhelming. Emotions ranging from anger to deep hurt and sadness that a cultural celebration is being diminished by arbitrary edict by a handfull of BIA store-owners," says Ostrowski.

"Surprising is the number of non-Poles who are wishing and commenting that the festival retain its Polish name."

He's hoping to continue to take other further action in the future to continue to make progress with reversing the name change.

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns

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