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Keeping Memories Alive: Jan and Katherine Wachowicz Family Park

by Edward R. Wachowich

One mile east of Bruderheim, Alberta, and four miles north, there is a twelve-acre parcel of land in the northwest corner of NW22-56-20-W4 which has been dedicated as the Jan and Katherine Wachowicz Family Park. This parcel of land comes from a quarter section of land that was owned by Thomas Wachowicz and is three miles from the original 1904 homestead of Jan Wachowicz and five miles from the Skaro shrine. The parcel is a nice sandy, wooded area of jack pine, spruce, birch, poplar, choke cherries, saskatoons, etc. It is an open-air mass site and a picnic site which can be covered in the event of rain. Thomas Wachowicz liked to picnic privately in this area and always called it his Ponderosa. It was always his wish to convert this parcel into a family park. In 1980, he sold the quarter section to Edward and Allan Wachowich on the condition that the parcel be dedicated as the Jan and Katherine Wachowicz Family Park. The Park is maintained by common family efforts.

At the Family Park each year, beginning in 1983, a family picnic is held in August on the first Sunday after the Skaro Pilgrimage (the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary). All the descendants of Jan and Katarzyna Wachowicz and their spouses are invited to each year's family picnic, and the attendance varies between 150 and 200 members of the family. Each year, the picnic honours one of the children of Jan and Katarzyna and their children. So far the picnics have honoured:
  1. Thomas and Frances Wachowicz and Family
  2. Rose and John Turchanski and Family
  3. Agnes and Jim Jacques and Family
  4. Peter and Helen Wacowich and Family
  5. Father Stanley Wachowicz (in the sixtieth year of his ordination)
  6. Victoria and Ralph Boehm and Family
  7. Frances and Bronislaw Huculak and Family
  8. Philip and Nancy Wachowich and Family
  9. Sister Stanislaus (Helen) Wachowicz
This order of the picnic is repeated and, accordingly, in 1995 we honoured Peter and Helen Wacowich and Family.

The original Wachowicz surname is spelled in three different ways: Wachowicz, Wachowich and Wacowich. The history of this name change gives an interesting insight into the "Canadianization" of Polish surnames.

Two sons of Jan and Katarzyna Wachowicz, Peter and Philip, who were in business, started to use the name Wachowich. The change was made to suit the pronunciation of the name as the people they dealt with would not know how to pronounce the "cz" at the end of their names. Peter Wachowich started a general store at Opal, Alberta in the early 1900s and he later invited his brother Philip Wachowich to open a hardware store also at Opal. A lot of the mail to them was addressed simply as "P. Wachowich." This caused a great deal of confusion to the local postmaster as to whose mail was whose. This also caused trouble to Peter and Philip because they would get each other's mail and they would argue, for example, that the invoice that came from Mashall Wells was the responsibility of the other. It was suggested by the postmaster that one of them change their name to "Wacowich" and this would not affect the pronunciation but would help to solve the mail problem. They accepted this solution and decided to toss a coin to see who would change his name. Peter lost the toss and he and his family became Wacowich. Philip and his family remained Wachowich. Two other sons of Jan and Katarzyna Wachowicz, Thomas and Stanley, never changed their names so that we have today the Thomas Wachowicz family and Fr. Stanley Wachowicz used the original name until his death.

The annual picnic starts with an open-air Holy Mass at 2 p.m. Although Fr. Stanley Wachowicz passed away in 1977, fortunately we again have a priest in the family, Fr. David Meadows, who every year comes from Calgary to say Mass at our family picnic.1 After the Mass, we have a potluck dinner with several kegs of beer and we visit with each other until late in the evening. The children enjoy playing on the merry-go-round, swings, and teeter totter, and drinking pop and eating chocolate bars.

Each year we publish an up-to-date brochure with a family tree and a history naming all the descendants of the family we are honouring. A brochure is printed for each one of the over 400 descendants of Jan and Katarzyna Wachowicz for their personal record. We have also formed the Jan and Katherine Wachowicz Family Society in conjunction with the Family Park. The Society has been founded in order to:
  • encourage and maintain the Polish Culture and religious background of the extended Wachowicz family;
  • establish the Father Stanley Wachowicz Memorial Scholarship Fund to assist candidates for the priesthood at Newman Theological College, St. Albert, Alberta;
  • maintain a recreational park for the use of the extended Wachowicz family;
  • promote social gatherings and family reunions for members of the Family;
  • encourage and foster a continuing family relationship among the Wachowicz descendants;
  • perpetuate the Wachowicz name.
Katarzyna Wachowicz, whose maiden name was Baszczyn, had a sister Elzbieta [Elizabeth] Mryczak. She and her husband, Wawrzyniec Mryczak were the first Polish settlers in the Skaro district in 1897. Katarzyna also had a sister Zofia Malica, who was married to Mateusz [Matthew] Malica, who lived across the road from the Skaro shrine, and a brother Tom (Baszczyn) Boston of Redwater. We are presently looking at ways of including their families in our annual Family Picnic and we prepare a family brochure on these families.

Having the yearly family picnic is a splendid way of maintaining our Polish culture and religious background, as well as keeping the Wachowicz family together. We keep the memories alive.

Notes
1 See the fragment from Fr. Meadows' letter to the family, quoted in "Polish Roots in the Second Generation," elsewhere in Polonia in Alberta 1895-1995: The Polish Centennial in Alberta.


Reprinted from Polonia in Alberta 1895 -1995: The Polish Centennial in Alberta (Edmonton: Polish Centennial Society, 1995) eds. Andrzej M. Kobos and Jolanta T. Pekacz, with permission of the Canadian Polish Congress Alberta Branch.

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