June 5, 2013


O Canada, Our Home and Native Land...these are the opening words of the Canadian national anthem.Whether born in Canada or immigrated, Canadians are proud of being nationals of this great country. And unlike the Americans, Canadians love to celebrate their diversity.  From "sea to shining sea" there is an intricate mosaic of many and diverse cultures. Canadians never lose their roots - they are Italian-Canadians, German-Canadians, Greek-Canadians, Polish-Canadians, and on and on!

This special series, The Polish Diaspora, Part I,  showcases just a few of the Polish-Canadians who have made enormous contributions to this country in virtually every sector - politics, business, sports, sciences, arts, music, etc.  While it is impossible to mention every person, suffice it to say that many Polish-Canadians have made significant strides in this country, achieving in many cases, international fame!  


Wayne Gretzky, The Great One, Polish-Canadian, Great Hockey Player
Wayne Gretzky

You don't have to be a hockey fan to have heard of the "Great One", Wayne Gretzky, one the greatest hockey players of all time!
Though he was born and raised in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, his legendary athletic prowess came from his Polish roots.  Gretzky's paternal grandfather, Anton Gretzky came from Grodno, Belarus, which at the time was part of the Russian Empire.  His entire family had immigrated to Canada before the onset of World War I, settling down in Canning, Ontario. Anton and his wife Mary settled on a 25-acre cucumber farm he bought and soon after  Walter Gretzky was born.  Walter was raised on the farm, and later worked for Bell Telephone. He would eventually meet Wayne's mother Phyllis Hockin.  And then Wayne was born. The rest of the story is pure magic.

The entire family regularly congregated in their living room to watch Hockey Night in Canada - Wayne and his siblings, Kim, Keith, Glen and Brent.  It was on this farm where Wayne began to carve his skating genius - using a souvenir hockey stick on a makeshift ice rink.  He was barely three years old when he started!

When Wayne blazed onto the major leagues for the first time, he thrilled fans everywhere with his skill, intellect, strength and speed on the ice rink.  Gretzky's career spanned twenty-one years, and by the time he retired in 1999, he was the largest point scorer in the League.  Wayne racked up over 200 points in just one season - but wait, he repeated it four times! And held 40 regular season records!  His accomplishments remain unrivalled in the NHL

Top 10 Wayne Gretzky Moments (00:09:55 min)

In 1999, Wayne Gretzky was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Even more impressive was that the NHL decided to retire his jersey 99,  league-wide!  No player before or since had received such a great honour! 

Some people say that Wayne Gretzky possessed some kind of "sixth sense".  When asked what was his strategy, he attributed his skills to his father's great coaching skills. "Without the direction of my father, I don't know where I'd be".

Wayne Gretzy and father Walter

Peter Gzowski CBC broadcaster, journalist

Peter John Gzowski
(July 13, 1934 - January 24, 2002)

Peter Gzowski's contributions to Canadian media were unparalleled. Throughout his career he made enormous accomplishments in the fields of broadcasting, writing and journalism, foremost his renowned work on the CBC radio show, Morningside. With his friendly, yet inimitable style, Gzowski conducted over 27,000 interviews - the likes which make rival broadcasters' pale in comparison. (Sadly the world is better acquainted with Barbara Walters than Peter Gzowski!!)

Gzowski was born in Toronto, Ontario to parents Margaret McGregor and Harold Edward Gzowski. His paternal great-great-grandfather was Sir Casimir Gzowski, a Polish-born, engineer of significant prominence.

He attended University of Toronto but never graduated.  Nevertheless he was later awarded with eleven honorary degrees! At the age of 28 he became the youngest managing editor of Canada's leading periodical, MacLeans'.

In 1969-1970, Gzowski hosted his first radio show, Radio Free Friday, which was followed by five-year stint as host of the CBC's This Country in the Morning. From 1976 to 1978 he hosted the TV show 90 Minutes Live on CBC and by 1982 he returned to his radio show, which had been re-titled, Morningside.He stayed until 1997.

In 1986 he received honours as an Officer of the Order of Canada, In 1997, the International Peabody Award for Journalism and a Gold Medal from the Canadian Geographical Society, as well as the Companion of the Order of Canada, amid many other awards, and honours.

Peter Gzowski passed away in January 2002, from emphysema.

Sir Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski
Sir Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski

Casimir Gzowski was born in Saint Petersburg on March 5, 1813, to a Polish family of the szlachta - the noblility. His father had served in the Russian military. During the Polish Rebellion in 1830, the family escaped and fled to the United States. With hardly an English,Casimir Gzowski embarked on the study of law and was admitted to practice. Following in his fathers footsteps, Casimir also became an engineer, his primary ambition.

He was involved in railway construction in the U.S. and eventually was hired as an engineer to collaborate in the construction of the New York and Erie Railways.

In 1890, he was knighted by Queen Victoria, and served as Lieutenant Governor in Ontario (1896-1897)

He died in 1898 in Toronto. 

On March 5, 1963 a special stamp was issued by the Canadian post office commemorating the 150th anniversary of Gzowski's birth. And Toronto's waterfront features "Casimir Gzowski Park" to honour his memory.

Janusz Zurakowski, famous Polish fighter (and test) pilot
Janusz Zurakowski

Janusz Zurakowski was a famous Polish fighter pilot (and test pilot) .  He was born in 1909 in Ryzawka , which was part of the Russian Empire. Following World War I and the Polish-Soviet War, the Treaty of Riga in 1921, the Second Polish Republic was created.  Consequently, the new borders encompassed Ryzawka in Soviet territory, compelling the Zurakowski family to abandon their home and relocate within the new Polish borders.

Zurakowski's love of planes began while he was in high school in Lublin. He began by learning how to fly gliders. In 1934, he enlisted in the Polish Air Force and was accepted into the Polish Air Force Officers School, graduating as a Sub-Lietenant. A year later, he served as a fighter test pilot with the 161 Fighter Squadron in Lwow, and in 1939, served as flying instructor at the famous prestigious flying academy at Deblin.

September 1939 was called "Black September". Hitler's armies invaded Poland from the North, West and South. Seventeen days later, Stalins armies invaded from the East. Though Polish forces were greatly overwhelmed, they did not back down, but fought courageously. Zurakowski was among them, flying an outdated PZL P.7 trainer plane against seven German Dornier 17s! He succeeded in damaging one German fighter plane, but had to retreat as his guns were jammed.

Despite defeat, Polish forces, on land, and in the air, made their way to England through a perilous route via Romania and France.

While stationed at Cornwall, his first posting was as Pilot Officer to 152 Squadron then eventually moved to the RAF Middle Wallop. He flew the magnificent Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1 and fought against the German Luftwaffe - shooting down a Messerschmitt Bf-110.He became Squadron Leader of 316 Squadron and Deputy Wing Leader of Polish No. 1 Fighter Wing at Northolt (London, England).

For his amazing skills and bravery he was decorated with many awards including the prestigious Virtuti Militari and the Polish Cross of Valor.

Zurakowski retired from the RAF in 1947 and worked as Chief Experimental Test Pilot for Gloster Aircraft. On April 4-5, 1950, he established an international speed record, flying from London-Copenhagen-London.

Janusz Zurakowski, famous Polish fighter (and test) pilot

In 1952, Zurakowski immigrated to Canada with his family and continued working as a test pilot, for A.V. Roe Canada. On December 18, 1952, he dived his CF-100 fighter to be the first pilot to break the sound barrier! Two years later while testing an experimental rocket pack, it exploded killing one of the observers, John Hiebert. But Zurakowski survived it.

Zurakowski was acclaimed for his skill as an aerobatic display pilot, hailed as the " Great Zura". He was the appointed Chief Development test pilot of the CF-105 Avro Arrow program! His first flight on the Arrow RL 25201 was on March 25, 1958, during which he flew for 35 minutes without incident. Moreover, he flew a variety of Arrow planes reaching speeds of Mach 1.89 at an altitude of 50,000 feet, a milestone for his time!

In 1973, Zurakowski was inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame. In 1996 the Royal Canadian Mint issued a commemorative coin, the "Avro Canada CF-100 Canuk" featuring an image of Janusz Zurakowski, among other awards. In 1999 Zura received one of Poland's prestigious medal, the "Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland."

Donald Frank Mazenkowski, PC, OC, AOE
Donald Frank Mazenkowski, PC, OC, AOE

Donald Mazankowski "Don" reached the pinnacle of Canadian politics. He served in the capacity of Cabinet Minister under Prime Ministers Joe Clark, and Brian Mulroney, and was appointed Deputy Prime Minister under Mulroney's administration. Following his career in politics he joined the law firm, Gowling, Lafleur, Henderson LLP and serves as Director or Trustee for several companies including Shaw Communications and Power Corporation of Canada.

Mazankowski was born in Alberta to Polish parents. Before politics, he embarked in business and managed a car dealership. His first jaunt in politics was as member of the Albertan Progressive Conservative Party, and in 1968 he was elected MP to the Canadian House of Commons for Vegreville, Alberta.

Under the brief Clark administration, Mazankowski served as Minister of Transport, then promoted to Deputy Prime Minister and Government House Leader. He was an intrinsic part of the negotiations for the Canada- US Free Trade Agreement, and the North American Free Trade Agreement.Under the Mulroney administration, Mazankowski was appointed Finance Minister in 1991. Two years later when Kim Campbell became prime minister, she demoted Mazankowski, at which point he retired from politics. ( Incidentally, he refused to accept a very prestigious seat in the Senate, offered to him by Prime Minister Mulroney in the final days of his administration.)

Subsequently, he continued to work in the private sector among various organizations as well as the University of Alberta. But he did remain involved in politics. In 2002, he was head of an investigation into Alberta's health care system, and managed a merger between the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance Party.

In 2000, he was decorated as Officer of the Order of Canada.  Two years later he received the award, "Alberta Order of Excellence."

Mazankowski ranks as one of the few Canadians who were conferred the title of "The Right Honorable", without ever having attained the status affiliated to this title. There are very few men of this caliber - anywhere.

General Walter John Natynczyk, CMM, MSC, CD,
Walter Natynczyk

General Walter John Natynczyk, CMM, MSC, CD,is the former Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Forces. He was born in Manitoba and grew up with his two sisters. Before he joined the Canadian army, Walter worked as a newspaper boy, and even a hamburger flipper at a fast food restaurant!

Natynczyk joined the Canadian Armed Forces in August 1975 and spent the next five years at the Royal Roads Military College and College militaire royal de Saint-Jean, graduating with a degree in Business Adminstration. During his early career he served on NATO duty in Germany with the prestigious Royal Canadian Dragoons, responsible for troop command and staff appointments.

From 1983 to 1995, Natynczyk served as Squadron Commander of the Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston; served on a tour in Petawawa, UN peacekeeping in Cyprus, Army Staff at St. Hubert, Quebec; Chief of Land Operations UNPROFOR  HQ in Zagreb, Croatia;  Sector South-West Chief of Operations in Bosnia and Herzogovina with 7 UK Armoured Brigade; Vice Chief of the Defence Staff in National Defence HQ in Ottawa;  and even led the Dragoons in Ottawa during the 1998 Ice Storm!

In 1998 Natynczyk returned to Bosnia serving as the Canadian Contingent Commander. When he returned to Ottawa a year later, he was appointed J3 Plans and Operations in missions to Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor and Eritrea.

He attended the US Army War College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Upon completion he was selected to the position of Deputy Commanding General III corps. In 2004, he served as Deputy Director of Strategy, Policy and Plans, in Baghdad, Iraq, as well as Deputy Commanding General of the Multi-National Corps, in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was decorated with the Meritorious Service Cross.

When he returned to Canada, he took command of the Land Force Doctrine and Training System. On June 6, Natynczyk was appointed Chief of the Defence Staff, and promoted General on July 2, 2008.

From September 15 to 16, 2008 General Walter Natynczyk visited the General Staff of Poland.  Generals Gagor and Natynczyk convened a conference to discuss cooperation between the Polish Armed Forces and the Canadian Armed Forces in their commitment to ISAF operation in Afghanistan.  Here, Canadian-Polish General Natynczyk inspects armed troops in the Polish Republic.

Want to know more about Polish heritage in Canada?  
Click on these links and discover some great Polish websites!

book: How the Polish Created Canada

The Polish Canadian Women's Federation

Polish-Canadian Yacht Club

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