Creating Kashubia – as presented by Joshua C. Blank
A gathering of over 50 people were in attendance on the evening of August 23, 2016 at the Opeongo Seniors’ Centre to hear Josh Blank speak about his recently published book, “Creating Kashubia – History, Memory, and Identity in Canada’s First Polish Communituy.” The evening was co-sponsored by the Madawaska Valley Public Library (MVPL) and the Wilno Heritage Society (WHS). Sean Conway, a former local M.P.P. and Minister of Education, aptly handled the role of moderator. In introducing the evening, Sean acknowledged the presence of Kim Love, Mayor of MV Township, and Teresa Berezowski, President of the Canadian Polish Congress (CPC), who travelled from Toronto to hear Josh speak. The CPC is a national organization, an umbrella so to speak, which represents many smaller Polish groups, such as the Wilno Heritage Society, the Polish Heritage Institute Kaszuby, the Polish Scout Movement, etc. as a united front.
Peter Glofcheskie, WHS President, introduced Josh to the audience. Josh, a graduate of St. John Bosco and MVDHS, received his BA at Carleton University, Ottawa, followed by a B.Ed. and a M.A. Josh presently is a teacher in Ottawa, and continues to research local history issues.
In his preamble, Josh said he spent about eight years of researching information, data, and interviews in preparation for his book, which has been published by McGill-Queen’s University Press. S. Conway noted that the book is part of the McGill-Queen’s Studies in Ethnic History series. It has been picked up by many libraries and universities throughout North America and in Poland.
The book is divided into two main parts: the first, “Revisiting Historical Memory” delves extensively into the reasons why the Polish Kashubs came to Canada and there is a lengthy discussion on the poor conditions in Poland, both in Prussian and Austrian occupied Poland, which prompted the first families to emigrate. The second part, “Cultural Redefinition” covers the origins of the Kashubian culture, traditions, and the language. Josh spoke how Dr. Florian Cenova attempted to create a new Kashubian language based on how the Polish Kashubs spoke. Another famous Kashub, Hieronim Derdowski has coined the iconic phrase: There is no Kashubia with Poland, and no Poland without Kashubia.
Throughout his presentation, Josh gave credit to a number of past and present authors, such as Father Al Rekowski and Shirley Mask-Connolly, who have compiled valuable information and data on the Polish Kashub settlers in the area, how they chose to stay on land that produced more stones than food, and how they preserved, through oral history, traditions and culture that they believed were Polish. Only in the last several decades, and more so with the establishment of the Wilno Heritage Society in 1998, have the Polish Kashubs come to realize that they are more than just Polish. They have language and cultural traditions specific to an area of Poland, just like the Mountain group (Gorale) or any other of the different ethnic groups that make up Poland.
Josh praised the Wilno Heritage Park as a symbol of hope, a link to the past with memories as seen through the eyes of today, which rejuvenate and reinvigorate a sense of the past. He stated that the purpose of his book was “to explore the past and myths, and re-write inconsistencies – we reach back to move forward.”
In conclusion Josh alluded to recent media attention and articles that have been written without research into sources and arguments that create incorrect statements. He emphasized that the goal is to “build bridges, not walls.”
During the Q&A period, a number of individuals asked questions that were specific to living/working conditions for the emigrants before they emigrated and after. In response to a question about the use of “i” or “ie” in surnames, Josh opined that it was more on how the name was recorded initially, and only after WW II was a more standard approach taken towards spelling.
Josh was asked to comment about the group in Poland, Kaszebsko Jednota, its influence and how it reflects on the history of the Polish Kashubs, given that not many people here know about it. He simply stated that it is a breakaway of a larger organization, and is responsible for using facts and inappropriately filling in the gaps.
T. Berezowski thanked Josh for writing the book, for describing how the Polish Kashubs have contributed to the overall growth and development of this area, for showing how Poland is made up of many different ethnic peoples - It does not matter if you speak the language, it is what you feel, and the traditions that you adhere to.
The final comment was given by Angela Lorbetskie, the former MVPL Head Librarian, who reminded all that Josh began his research at the library, an excellent source of local information and data, which gave him the basis to reach further afield. In her words, “libraries are not going away.”
The co-sponsors thank Sean Conway for being the moderator, and Josh Blank for taking the time to prepare the presentation, and to those who came out for the evening.
Submitted by: Iwona J. Mooney
Chairman, MVPL Board