Polish Music in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Polish Music in Canada

The first Polish settlement in Canada was established by Kashubian peasants in the early 1860s in Renfrew County, south of Pembroke, Ont. In 1875 a Polish parish was organized and a church built at the place which became the village of Wilno in the 1880s.

The first Polish settlement in Canada was established by Kashubian peasants in the early 1860s in Renfrew County, south of Pembroke, Ont. In 1875 a Polish parish was organized and a church built at the place which became the village of Wilno in the 1880s. The immigration of Poles was steady and sizeable by 1900 and reached its peak in the 1950s; the 1986 census registered 612,105 Polish-Canadians - the fifth largest group among Canada's minorities. (Almost half were living in the cities of southern Ontario, the rest in Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia, and Quebec). Though some Polish-Canadians are Jewish, most belong to the Roman Catholic church, which has played a central role in the preservation of Polish cultural traditions in Canada.


The rich Polish folk music tradition is demonstrated by some 40 flourishing dance, choral, and instrumental ensembles. With few exceptions (including one group which participated in the Winnipeg CPR Festival of 1928), these ensembles were founded in the 1950s and 1960s. Performances occur at national celebrations, social gatherings, and multicultural events. The preferred dances are Krakowiak, Polonaise, Kujiawiak, Mazurka, Oberek, Troyak, and Goralski. Usually a performance offers a suite of dances from a particular region. Accompaniment may be supplied by piano, accordion, violin, drums, guitar, and mandolin. Among the best-known Canadian ensembles are the Polish 'Sokol' Choir (Winnipeg; founded in 1914 and awarded first prize in the 1976 World Festival of Polish Choirs in Koszalin, Poland) and Podhale (Montreal; founded in 1965). The repertoire includes Polish art and folksongs. The Archives of the Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies of the National Museum of Man (Canadian Museum of Civilization) in Ottawa held, in 1975, 450 folksongs, 51 instrumental pieces, and 5 folk instruments collected in Renfrew County by John Glofcheskie, and in particular, two precious folk instruments from Poland - a primitive little violin called 'Mazanki' and a Podhale mountaineer's bagpipe. In 1973-4 Glofcheskie prepared for the centre a study entitled 'The musical folklore of Canada's oldest Polish community.'

Musicians Of Polish Origin Or Descent

Canadians Walter Buczynski, Victor Feldbrill, Janina Fialkowska, Anna-Marie Globenski, Eugene Kash, and John Weinzweig have Polish antecedents. Native Poles prominent in Canadian musical life include the pianists Leo Barkin, Marek Jablonski, Czeslaw Kaczynski (erstwhile director of the Trois-Rivières Cons and in the 1970s a piano teacher at the CMM), and Frédéric Bertozisky (head of the Académie internationale de piano in Montreal); the violinists Ireneusz Bogajewicz, Ida Haendel, and Henri Czaplinski (who taught Harry Adaskin and Ernest Farmer); bassist Zdzislaw Marczynski; sopranos Alina Brychwa, Maria Geppert, and Adelina Czapska who taught 1940-50 in Montreal (Napoléon Bisson, Marie-José Forgues, and Alphonse Ledoux were among her pupils); baritone Janusz Wolny; the cellists Martin Hoherman, who lived briefly in Toronto and Winnipeg during the 1950s, and Julian Tryczynski, of the Vághy String Quartet; the US pianist Emanuel Ax, who arrived in Canada from Poland as a child with his parents in 1959 and studied in Winnipeg with Jean Broadfoot; Czeslaw Gladyszewski, appointed conductor of the Sherbrooke Symphony Orchestra in 1973; the choir directors Edward Domanski and Aleksander Charuba; the composers Harry Freedman, Mieczyslaw Kolinski, Peter Paul Koprowski, Herbert Ruff, and Boleslaw Szczeniowski (also an engineer in Montreal, d 1985); and the Chopin scholar Mateusz Glinski (b Warsaw 1892, d Welland, Ont, 1976), who was visiting professor 1959-65 at Assumption College, Windsor, Ont.

There have been two Chopin societies in Canada. The first, La Société Frédéric Chopin au Canada (Quebec City, 1926-ca 1974) was founded by Léo Roy and was essentially a single-handed undertaking. The Frederic Chopin Society of Canada, founded in 1974 in Toronto, presents music of the romantic period in authentic style and promotes young Canadian pianists in recital.

The Polish Canadian Music Society, formed in Toronto in 1984, presents music of all periods and nationalities and promotes artists and composers of Polish descent. The society had under its auspices in 1991 three professional ensembles - the Toronto Sinfonietta chamber orchestra (see Orchestras), the Musica Antiqua Chamber Choir, and the Continuo Ensemble. In 1991 the Society began the Polish Choir, an amateur group, and began a series of recitals of music and poetry at Hart House. Matthew (Maciej) Jaskiewicz (b Czestockowa, Poland 1943), studied music in Warsaw and moved to Canada in 1984. In 1991 he conducted all of the society's three larger ensembles, the Oakham House Choir of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, and the Northumberland Symphony Orchestra.

Polish Visitors

In the 19th century several Polish musicians performed in Canada. Among these were the soprano Marcella Sembrich-Kochanska (1880s), the violinist Henryk Wieniawski (1872), the pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski (1892), the tenor Wladyslaw Mierzwinski (1880s), and the bass Edouard de Reszke (1890s). Twentieth-century visitors have included the composers Lucjan Kamienski, Zygmunt Krauze, Felix Labunski, Witold Lutoslawski, and Krzysztof Penderecki; the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska; the pianists Alexander Brailowsky, Halina Czerny-Stefanska, Teresa Garbulinska, Tadeusz Kerner, Witold Malcuzynski, Artur Rubinstein, Halina Siedzieniewska, Andrzej Wasowski, and Krystian Zimerman, and the Polish-American Ruth Slenczynska; the violinists Bronislaw Huberman (father-in-law of Barbara Pentland), Henryk Szeryng (who spent a year in Montreal during the 1940s), Wanda Wilkomirska, and Wanda Wierzbicka; the cellist Roman Jablonski; the soprano Teresa Zylis-Gara, and the baritone Andrzej Hiolski. Gabriel Chmura (conductor of the NACO 1987-90), Pawel Klecki, Kazimierz Kord, Witold Rowicki, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, and the choir conductor Stefan Stuligrosz have conducted in Canada, and in 1974 Kord led the TS on a European tour.

Polish groups which have appeared in Canada include the folk ensembles Mazowsze and Slask, the Warsaw Philharmonic (under Witold Rowicki), the Polish Radio Chamber Orchestra, the Poznan Boys' and Men's Choir, and the Szczecin Choir, which toured (1978) in an exchange with the Vancouver Bach Choir which had performed in Poland in 1977. Under the sponsorship of the JMC (YMC) several young Polish musicians have performed in Canada.

Canadian Visitors To Poland

Similarly, many Canadian musicians have appeared in Poland. Bertha Crawford sang annually in Warsaw 1919-34. Jean-Pierre Ferland in 1963, Pauline Julien in 1964, Monique Leyrac in 1965, and Donald Lautrec in 1967 have been winners of the International Song Festival, Sopot, Poland. In 1975 the pianist John Hendrickson won third prize and a special music critics' prize at the Frederic Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw. Other Canadians who have appeared in Poland include Marek Jablonski in 1964, Suzanne Shulman with Claude Savard in 1971, Hugh McLean in 1973 and 1975, Maureen Forrester in 1973 and 1976, the NACO in 1973, Mario Bernardi in 1975, the McGill Chamber Orchestra in 1977, the CCMC in 1978, the Lyric Arts Trio in 1978, performing compositions by Robert Aitken, Bruce Mather, and Paul Pedersen at the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of contemporary music, the York Winds and Luba and Ireneus Zuk in 1984, and Michael Strutt in 1987. Joan Patenaude performed Nedda in I Pagliacci with the State Opera in Warsaw in 1977 and returned to sing the leading roles in Madama Butterfly and La Traviata in 1978.

Further Reading