A Brief History of Branch 13
One of the first Polish communities established in Canada is Winnipeg's. Although scattered throughout the province working on farms and later cutting trees, the combatants who arrived there after the war were in a better position than those who settled in other provinces. The existing Polish organizations and parishes provided the much needed support. The weekly "Czas" was especially helpful. The first National Executive Board of the Polish Combatants' Association in Canada had its headquarters on the premises of the newspaper, thanks to the good will of its editor, Mr. A. Synowiecki, the former Consul of the pre-war Polish government, and Mrs. Valerie Szczygielski, the secretary.
Branch #13 was formed by Polish combatants who worked in the Winnipeg area on the two year contracts on sugar beet farms and in the forests, cutting trees. Thanks to the Provincial Command of the Royal Canadian Legion the branch was also granted the status of Service Group #210 of the Legion. The status was upgraded to Branch #210 of the Legion once the combatants were granted Canadian citizenship. Being a member of the Legion was of advantage to any combatant looking for employment after his contract expired. Affiliation with the Legion made it possible to obtain a license to sell beer, which considerably improved the finances of the branch. In later years, membership in the Legion played an instrumental role in obtaining veterans' benefits for the former soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West on a par with their Canadian colleagues.
The branch started off as the largest in Canada, with 300 members, but when many of the combatants adapted to their new life in Canada, married and turned their attention to family life active membership fell quickly, dropping to only 30 members in 1949-50 before rebounding back to 150 thanks to the hard work of several branch members.
Branch president Adam Mossakowski, together with some friends, leased the restaurant and banquet hall at the Empire Hotel. On the basis of a friendly and informal agreement, these premises were made available to the branch when they were not in use. Thus the branch was able to hold meetings and to organize social events. Mr. Mossakowski's generosity saved the branch from almost certain extinction.
The cultural life of the branch began in 1949 with the establishment of a Cultural Commission under the leadership of Henry Lorenc, which worked in the parish hall of Holy Ghost Church, known to the community as the Combatants Centre. The Commission prepared periodic radio programs and held dances. The "Syrena" orchestra was formed by Mr. Radian and, aided by the organizational skills of members of the Polish Women's Federation, began to perform on a regular basis, becoming popular with the Polish community. Later, a choir and folk dance group were formed. The folk dance group "Iskry" grew and improved, so much so, that it was invited to perform at the 1976 summer Olympic games in Montreal, after which it toured Nova Scotia, where it gave 18 performances.
Unique among the Combatants' Associations in Canada, a theatre group was formed in 1950, which staged its first production of "Jaselka" at the Playhouse Theatre. The arrival in Winnipeg of Tadeusz Gardziejewski led to the growth and success of the theatre section but ultimately the actors disbanded the group in 1957.
Ref-Ren and "Wesola Czworka" (Merry Quartet) were invited to perform in Winnipeg in 1954 and 1957, and again in 1975 and 1977. In 1960, Jasia Jasinska, a well known performer from the 2nd Corps, also appeared in Winnipeg.
In 1954, the branch joined Branch #34 of the Royal Canadian Legion. This gave it a much needed boost, strengthening it financially and organizationally and increasing its membership. Soon after, the branch purchased the premises of Lord Furniture, a spacious and bright location. The building was in good condition and only required renovations to meet the needs of the organization.
The branch formed a hunting and fishing club, "Orzel," in 1958. All adults could become members, but only Polish combatants could hold office. Each president of the club was given the title of the Great Hunter, following Polish hunting traditions.
The importance of the branch's contribution to the well-being of the Polish community was recognized with a highly symbolic gesture on the part of Mr. Jerzy Orlicz, president of the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Polish Congress. Mr. Orlicz initiated a fund-raising campaign in order to purchase branch colours as a gift from the Polish community. The colours were consecrated at a special ceremony on November 19, 1959; Its godparents were General K. Sosnkowski and Mrs. Anna Mynarska. The General is a legend to Polish troops in the West and Mrs. Mynarska is the mother of the heroic WW2 RCAF pilot, Lt. Andrew Mynarski, a recipient of the Victoria Cross.
Lt. Mynarski was further honoured by a commemorative plaque unveiled in the combatants' building in 1964 by Manitoba's Lt. Governor, Hon. E. Willis. The ceremony was attended also by the Premier, Hon. D. Robin. The plaque was funded by the Women's Auxiliary of the Royal Canadian Legion.
In the summer of 1989, the branch staged an exhibit at which an authentic Lancaster bomber was displayed at the Western Aviation Museum. Lt. Mynarski, piloting a Lancaster, died on April 14, 1944 in an heroic attempt to save the life of a trapped gunner as their plane went down.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Lt. Mynarski's death, the branch was successful in naming a Winnipeg park after him. At a ceremony in the "Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski, VC Park," attended by the family of the officer and representatives of the Canadian government, a commemorative plaque was unveiled on June 12, 1984.
For years the combatants wanted to erect a monument to their fallen comrades who died in WW2 and branch members who passed away in Canada. This goal was realized on August 21, 1988, when the monument was unveiled. Designed to resemble a roadside chapel and made of granite, it is situated at the cemetery. The main feature of the monument, a granite triangle which bears the picture of Mother of God, Mary of Kozielsk, is placed under the roof. Engraved on the face of the granite are the Polish White Eagle, Polish Combatants' Association coat of arms, and badges of Polish military units. The reverse side bears badges of the remaining units, as well as the cross of the British 8th Army. Soldiers' names are inscribed on two smaller plaques.
Some names associated with Branch #13, Winnipeg:
Tadeusz Wlizlo (Wilton)