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Polish National Association

Polish community marks anniversary

By Wieslaw Kusyk

Last Saturday, the Polish National Association on 554 Hill St. celebrated its 80th anniversary.

To the beautifully decorated Polish Hall came the Consol General for the Republic of Poland, Jacek Junosza-Kisielewski, Liberal MP Joe Fontana, London Mayor Dianne Haskett, Controller Ross Monteith and others to watch Polish folk dances performed by the Cracovia.

They also listened to speeches about Polish connections in London. The Polish community has grown in the last decade and may now be the largest immigrant community in the city. In 1996 there were about 15,800 Polish people, about three times that of 10 years earlier.

Before 1900 there were two people from Poland whose influence on London was significant. In the spring of 1841 Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski came to London and stayed until about 1845. He built a railway bridge across the Thames River and six harbours with lighthouses, including Port Stanley.

His most famous work was the International Bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo and Niagara Falls Park. He was also lieutenant governor of Ontario.

Another man who came to London from Poland Isaak Hellmuth, later the Anglican bishop of Huron. Hellmuth was primarily active in the fields of religion and education. He was born near Warsaw in 1817, son of a rabbi, and later converted to Christianity.

He came to Canada in the year 1844. In 1863, he became the first principal of Huron College. He was instrumental in founding Western University, now the University of Western Ontario, which he opened in 1881. People like Gzowski and Hellmuth left a mark on London.

The first group of Polish settlers in London arrived sometime after 1900. By 1905 there were five families of Polish origin in the city.
The first Polish organization in London, the Brotherhood of Mutual Benefit of the Sons of Poland, was established in 1920.
Mutual help of members, maintenance of the national character and preservation of its own religion were the organization's main goals. In 1925, the association changed its name to the Polish Club and in 1930 it received its own charter under a third name, the Polish National Association Ltd.

There were many celebrations in the Polish Hall before and after the Second World War. One of the greatest was 1,000 years of Christianity in Poland in 1966, and in 1967, Canada's centennial.

In 1977 the Polish National Association acquired a piece of land in Nilestown and built the Polish-Canadian Recreation Centre.
Thanks to the Polonia Cup tournament in Nilestown, the White Eagles and the Polish National Association of London have gained wide recognition.

We extend greetings to members of the Polish National Association and its current president Piotr Pytlik.

We must remember history is not only made up of bridges, lighthouses and cathedrals, it is being made every day.

We would like to show our appreciation to the longest serving president of the Polish National Association, Bazyli Balicki (23 years and Julia Sierechon (11 years), the longest serving president of the Polish Women Association.

London Free Press, November 10, 2000

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