Image Source:

A Brief History of Polish Immigration to Canada

Polish emigration began in 1772, when Prussia, Austria, and Russia started dividing their territories of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. Polish immigration to Canada began in the late 1700s. Many families left Poland in search of a better life. Canada seemed like an excellent escape from the difficult conditions they were experiencing in Poland. Including religious persecution, overpopulation, a lack of employment, and poverty.

Dominik Barcz was the first Polish settler in Canada. His arrival to Canada in 1753 can be found in early Canadian census records. He settled in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Immigration from Poland to Canada slowed down over the following years until the 19th century. Canada had six major waves of Polish immigration. From 1854 to 1901, 1916 to 1939, 1944 to 1956, 1957 to 1979, and 1980 to 1993, Canada saw waves of Polish settlers arrive.

The First Wave of Polish Immigrants

The first significant wave of immigrants arriving in Canada from Poland was in 1858. The Kashub region of northern Poland arrived in Eastern Ontario. They settled in the Renfrew County area in the small town of Wilno.

In 1862, the second wave of Polish immigration to Canada began. This time, most settlers arrived in Berlin, Ontario. Today, Berlin is known as Kitchener, Ontario.

The third wave of Polish immigration to Canada took place in the 1890s. It continued until the beginning of WWI. This wave was brought on by a lack of work in Poland and a dream of a better life in Canada. They hoped to take advantage of the free farmland being offered to Polish immigrants from Russia and Austria.

Canada experienced a lack of Polish immigration during the Depression years of 1929 to 1941. However, immigration began to pick up again after the end of WW2 from 1945 to 1956. Approximately 64,000 Polish immigrants arrived in Canada during this time. By the year 1951, the Canadian census showed over 200,0000 Polish immigrants living in Canada. By 1971, this number had grown to over 300,000 Polish immigrants in Canada.

Image Source: Pinterest
Polish Immigration To Canada

The First Wave of Polish Immigration to Wilno, Ontario

The first wave of Polish settlers to arrive in Canada were Kashubs from northern Poland. When they saw their homeland in Poland being occupied by the Prussian partition, many Kashibians, including men, women, and families sailed from Poland to Wilno, Ontario, Canada. They hoped to take advantage of the free land tenders offered to them by the Canadian government for farmland.

Two hundred Kashubians crowded together on the Bark Adga to set sail on their journey to Canada by boat in 1858. Unfortunately, their mode of transportation was not very extravagant. The Bark Agna was an outdated old sale boat that had most likely seen better days. It took the Polish settlers 72 days onboard the vessel to finally make it to Quebec, Canada.

Once the passengers reached the Port of Bremen for registration into Canada, there were long lign-ups of other ships arriving at the same port. It was a long and treacherous journey for them with not much light at the end of the tunnel.

The road to Wilno was also extremely rugged. The Polish settlers endured very poor travel conditions. This made their journey to freedom a very long and difficult one. 

A Look At The Settlers’ New Homeland

When they finally arrived in Wino, the settlers discovered their promised farmland was mostly filled with rocks. Polish families were given 100 acres of land from the Canadian government to farm. It was clearly going to be a difficult task for them. A task filled with many long hours of hard work to turn the rocky terrain into profitable farmland. 

It soon became apparent to the new settlers that their new life in Canada was not going to be as glamorous as they had been promised. Their new Canadian land assigned to them was not suitable for farming. Large boulders, steep hills, and sandy soil only added to their hardships of trying to clear the useless farmland.

Eventually, through neverending hours of hard work, the Kashubs and other Polish immigrants followed somehow managed to carve prosperous farmland out of the rocks. Many of the early settlers could not speak English. Their farms were located in very remote locations that were miles away from schools. The settlers worked hard to survive by harvesting the land for farming. Many of the children also helped with the work instead of attending school.

Wilno, Ontario is known today as the oldest Polish settlement in Canada. One of the reasons Polish immigrants were attracted to Wilno was because it reminded them of their landscape from back home in Poland.

Image Source:
A Picture of the Road Sign for Wilo, Ontario, the First Polish Settlement of Canada

On Board The Bark Agda

Despite the ship’s poor condition, there were 339 passengers that boarded the Bark Agda in Bremerhaven. A record was kept of the complete list of passengers. 

Of the list, 209 passengers were headed to Renfrew, Ontario (Wilno), 24 passengers to Port Hope, and 18 passengers to Toronto, Ontario. However, not all of the immigrants remained in Canada. Once they arrived safely in Canada, some passengers were carried on to the United States of America. Popular locations for Polish immigrants in the USA included:

  • Chicago
  • Detroit
  • Iowa
  • Milwaukee

Many families attempted to find bunk beds close to each other on board the ship. Some members were also single. They searched for a friend to bunk nearby. Some of the women passengers on the Adga were noticeably having babies. They had great difficulty climbing aboard the ship and getting around because they were so large. Many of the passengers came from West Prussia, a small area. They were either friends or family and had strong connections to each other.

Most of the passengers aboard the Agna also came from the same parish of Lipusz in West Prussia. Other locations included Weile, Parchowo, Ugoszcz, and Stezyca, among others.

Image Source:
Polish passengers crowded onto the Agda Ship headed to Canada in 1872.

The Polish Community of Wilno, Ontario As it Stands Today

People who visit Wilno today are often fascinated by its breathtaking hillside views and the beautiful church that sits on the top of the scenic Wilno Hills. Built in 1937 after the original Wilno church burnt down, St. Mary’s Catholic Church offers scenic views.

Many tourists are also attracted to the Wilno Tavern for a hearty selection of traditional Polish favorites and popular mouthwatering Canadian choices. The famous tavern has been in business for over 100 years and is a popular eatery for many people, including regulars and tourists. 

Their authentic Polish menu includes delicious homemade food from cabbage rolls, perogies, and Polish sausages to tempt your tastebuds. You also must try their homemade Wilno mustard that’s available for takeout. It’s sure to have you coming back for seconds.

Another attraction for visitors to Wilno is the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum. located in historical buildings that are still standing and some newer buildings. The museum tells the story of the Polish settlers who immigrated to Canada in the 1850s. From antique furniture to tools, old artifacts, and clothing, visitors are taken back in time to the early days of Polish Canadian history. The historical museum is open from June until September with entrance paid by donation.

Image Source: Pinterest
Polish Traditions Are Still Practiced In Wilno, Ontario Today.

Social Culture and Community Life For Polish Immigrants to Canada

The majority of Polish immigrants to Canada are Roman Catholic. However, there are also some United and Lutheran religions. Many Polish churches were formed in Canada before the Second World War to provide community and social life for the Polish immigrants to Canada. For several settlers, churches provided a safe place to gather and speak to the priest about current issues.

Social clubs began to pop up in the 1930s all over Canada to honor traditional Polish customs. Polish-speaking banks and credit unions were also opened throughout Canada for settlers to do their banking.

The Federation of Polish Women in Canada was also established in the 1950s. An independent organization, the members dealt with political and cultural issues faced by Poles living in Canada.

Several communities within Canada also began to open up community centers where Polish members could meet for folk dancing in their traditional Polish style and hold entertainment events concentrating on preserving their Polish heritage, customs, and dance.

First Polish Newspaper In Canada

The first Polish newspaper in Canada was created in 1914 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Czas newspaper was owned by a local Polish immigrant, Franciszek Doacek. 

The newspaper was written in the Polish language and catered to Polish Canadians, and their traditional heritage, and customs. 

In 2004, the Czas newspaper became available for members of the public through:

The University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collection

331 Elizabeth Dafoe Library. 

Current issues the Czas online newspaper are now available for the public to view online.


Image Source:
The First Polish Newspaper In Canada was the Czas In Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Famous Polish Immigrants to Canada

There were many Polish immigrants that came to Canada wh0 made a significant impact with their contributions to the country. Here is a list of some of the most famous Polish Canadians:

1. Dominik Barcz

Dominik Barcz was the first Polish immigrant to arrive in Canada in 1752. He was a fur merchant who came from Gdańsk, Poland, located on the coast of the Baltic Sea.

Barcz made his home in Montreal, Canada. He paved the way for many other generations of Polish immigrants to find their homes in Canada.

2. Charles Bladkowitz

Charles Bladkowitz arrived in Canada in 1757. He was a land surveyor who came from Prussia. 

On October 18, 1776,  Bladkowitz produced a map of the troop movements involved in the British Army for the Battle of Pelham.  

Blaskowitz was also known for his contributions towards making the first atlas. The book of 250 maps and sea directions was called The Atlantic Neptune.

3. August Franz Globensky

August Franz Globensky was a Polish immigrant who also journeyed to Canada. He became a doctor in the Hesse-Hanau army camp in Quebec City in 1776. 

4. Charles Augusta Maximilian Globensky

Charles Augusta Maximilian Globensky was the grandson of August Franz Globensky. In 1875, he became a member of the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario.

5. Aleksander E. Kierzkowski

Aleksander E. Kierzkowski arrived in Canada in 1841.

In 1867, Kierzkowski was an engineer who participated in the Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada’s political riding.      

6. Izaak Hellmuth

Izaak Hellmuth arrived in Canada from Warsaw, Poland. His contributions to the continuing education of Canadians were enormous. 

He became a leading founder of Huron University College located in London, Ontario. In 1878, he also became the founder of London, Ontario’s University of Western Ontario.

Image Source:
Immigration to Canada in the 1800s was a Long and Difficult Process for Polish Immigrants, although Many Immigrants Made Significant Contributions to the Country.

Polish Traditions Seen Around Canada Today

A panel of professors from the University of Ottawa asked this question “ Why does the Polish community not succeed on a wider Canadian stage compared to other ethnic groups in Canada?”

According to Statistics Canada, 1,106,585 Polish Canadians are currently living throughout the country. Many Polish youths in Canada still attend Polish groups and cultural related events to honor their heritage today. Some of these same young people are interested in where their relatives lived when they first arrived in Canada. Many have even traveled to see where their ancestors lived. 

Many Polish Canadians also continue their Polish traditions and take extreme pride in their culture. At the same time, they are also involved with politics and economic activities taking place within Canada that are not related to their Polish heritage.

Early settlers honored their Polish roots because of how hard they fought for survival and in an attempt to be accepted in their new homeland of Canada while maintaining their Polish roots. 

Image Source: Pinterest
A group of children dressed in Polish traditional clothing.

Final Thoughts

Nowadays, there aren’t as many newcomers from Poland and many Polish Canadians seem to have lost the perseverance that their grandparents once had. It is evident that the Polish culture is not as widely spoken about as other cultures in Canada. For instance, Blacks, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, among others are widely broadcast across Canadian television stations daily. But, you don’t often hear stories about Polish heritage being broadcast on the news stations.

Perhaps that’s because many Polish Canadians are humble and proud of their roots and the hard work their ancestors endured for them to be in Canada. Their presence in Canada was not something that was easily handed over to them. On the other hand, Polish heritage remains important for many Canadians who still attend groups and activities related to their heritage. The following quote was written by a grade two Polish Canadian girl living in Ottawa, Ontario.


“ I am a Canadian who is proud of my Polish roots. I know that my ancestors worked really hard to help build this country that I am fortunate enough to call my home.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *