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Theoretical rights, multiculturalism, and marginality – the Polish-Canadian case (Part Three)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted April 18, 2016

Canada today is clearly in the ambit of a North American mass-media based pop-culture. This pop-culture quite relentlessly obliterates any distinctive fragment-cultures. This happens especially when they lack a presence in the mass-media and pop-culture, or in the heavily state-subsidized official custodians of Canadian culture (typified by CanLit), or are unable to generate a certain cultural resiliency on their own. With the fewness of Polish-Canadian cultural figures such as writers, the community is mostly not represented in so-called CanLit (Canadian Literature).

There is also the extreme infrequency of even a mention of Polish or Polish-Canadian matters in the mass-media. The author of this presentation is unaware of any emphatically Polish-Canadian persons working as opinion-columnists at any major Canadian newspaper. The author is also unaware of any such senior editors at newspapers, magazines, or recognized publishing houses, nor any prominent literary agents, nor owners of more prominent bookstore chains.

One could ask whether the Internet, with its potential for a genuine pluralism of outlooks, is rather different from earlier media, with its so-called gatekeepers. However, the Internet arrived after over four decades of the very heavy conceptual and infrastructural weight of earlier media, most notably, television.

Certainly, no Polish-Canadian writer has reached the prominence of Ukrainian-Canadian author Janice Kulyk-Keefer. She was one of only four core professors at the University of Guelph-Humber Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Along with her Ukrainian-Canadian colleague Marsha Skrypuch, Janice Kulyk-Keefer offers the hope to Ukrainian-Canadians that some important new writers could emerge in the future from that community. The Ukrainian-Canadian community, especially through the Taras Shevchenko Kobzar Literary Foundation, offers a huge annual monetary award for the best book on a Ukrainian theme, as well as, among numerous other initiatives, a scholarship completely funding attendance at the prestigious Humber College Writers' Workshop for those who are working on a manuscript on a Ukrainian-Canadian theme.

There has almost always been in Polish immigration to Canada, the profound socio-economic problems of substantial poverty and difficulties of adjustment. Whatever the immigrants achieved was through very hard work. Polish-Canadians clearly lack to this day prominent philanthropists that can offer many millions of dollars to the community. While the initial trajectories of Ukrainian and Polish immigration to Canada may have been similar, they have now considerably diverged. Unlike the Ukrainian-Canadians, the community is unable to generate a degree of cultural resilience based mostly on its own philanthropic efforts.

The Polish immigrants to Canada usually came from a background of profound insecurity. Given that the writing profession, and, indeed, most endeavours in the arts and humanities, often fail to offer a steady and substantial income, most parents usually felt more comfortable steering their children into more practically- and technically-oriented professions.

There are also the problems with Polish community newspapers. They are typically published almost exclusively in Polish and have virtually no affect on Canadians of Polish descent – although this may have begun to change at some of the most forward-looking newspapers.

The 1970s publication, Echo, edited by Les Wawrow, in which many articles appeared in English, was probably the only major attempt among young Canadians of Polish descent to try to "ride the wave" of Sixties' change, endeavouring to create a unique amalgam of Old Country rootedness and progressive idealism. However, the publication failed rather quickly.

There has been a chronic failure to develop literary institutions in the community, around which some kind of discussion or literary circles could form. The Polish-Canadian Publishing Fund (Polski Fundusz Wydawniczy w Kanadzie) publishing books almost exclusively in Polish, is definitely a purely émigré phenomenon. In 1988, the Turzanski Foundation was established with great fanfare. However, its usual practice has been to invite well-known, well-established authors from Poland to receive its awards.

A very courageous experiment in literary culture and life was the literary magazine, High Park, edited by Piotr Manycz. Twenty-five magnificent issues were published from November 1992 to December 1998.  The physical and intellectual quality of the magazine was very high, and the magazine carried a fair number of articles in English. The magazine could have begun to create an artistic and literary circle around itself.

Partially based on a draft of an English-language presentation read at the 6th Congress of Polish Canadianists (Polish Association for Canadian Studies) (Poznan, Poland: Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan), April 5-7, 2013.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.

 

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