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Alberta Online Encyclopedia


The Polish Community in Alberta

The Polish community in Alberta was built from a century of immigration and shaped by hard work, perseverance, integration and a commitment to cultural traditions. While there are numerous aspects that constitute this vital component of Alberta's Slavic heritage, it can be viewed within a framework of three main waves of immigration that extend back to the turn of the 20th century.

Polish family While each generation has worked together to create the overall make-up of Alberta's vibrant Polish community, each also represents a distinctive group of people that differed markedly in social and economic status as well as in motivations, priorities and ambitions. Each has contributed in unique ways, and has left their own legacy for future generations.

The First Settlements

Although Poles had been present in Western Canada as far back as the early years of the19th century, the first homesteaders arrived in what is now Alberta at the turn of the 20th century. Enticed by the new Family immigration policy aimed at settling the Canadian prairies with farmers who could survive and work within the challenging realities of the wilderness, these first Polish arrivals were similar to other Eastern European immigrants-they were generally from a peasant background, having little formal education and from impoverished agricultural areas and small villages. They often sold all that they had to leave the only home they had ever known to settle in rural Alberta.

Early Settlers Seeking the economic and social opportunities afforded by land ownership, the lives of these early pioneers were difficult. Faced with harsh conditions, strange customs and hampered by language barriers, this first generation of Polish Albertans quickly established a network of mutual aid. With other Polish and Ukrainian immigrants they shared their homes, knowledge and farming equipment. Undoubtedly bolstered by this support system, 22 Polish communities in Alberta developed between 1890 and 1920, firmly planting the seeds for a second generation.

Importance of the Church

For the early Polish pioneers, the Roman Catholic Church was a religious, social and cultural centre. In their small communities scattered throughout central Alberta, it was a church stabilizing element amidst great change and challenge. It was also the first social institution that the immigrant communities established, initially in log shacks and cabins and later in chapels and churches. The Polish missionary priests were highly valued and in great demand-not only did they provide religious guidance, but also offered advice on family matters, education and agriculture, served as translators and mediated between the immigrants and Canadian authorities.

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