Wilno, Ontario – Canada’s First Polish Settlement
Each year on my annual family fishing trip with my eight siblings and thirty nieces and nephews I pass by the town of Wilno, Ontario, just off highway 60. This year I decided to take a small detour and stop in to explore the town.
Wilno is known for being the first Polish settlement in Canada; Polish immigrants settled here during the 19th century and their culture set the foundation for what is now a fiercely proud community of Polish-heritage Canadians. Polish names decorate the streets of Wilno, and community signboards are written in both English and the Polish offshoot language of Kashubian. Locals endeavour to celebrate their ancestors’ heritage through events, language and small museums and monuments to the first settlers. Several residents still speak their predecessor’s native tongue, and efforts are being made to preserve the language for future generations.
The centerpiece of Wilno is the double-spire St. Mary’s Church, which boasts the title of the oldest Polish parish in Canada. Scattered across town you’ll also find crosses nestled at street corners; erected by early settlers, these crosses are reminders of the Polish tradition of prayer at crossroads. The town is home to many artisans whose local businesses supply the town with a variety of crafts influenced by Polish design and culture.
To be Canadian does not mean abandoning your heritage, but instead to let it coexist among others. Wilno is only one example of Canada’s many ethnic communities, and we hope to see many more in the future.
After my short tour of Wilno I carried on to spend the rest of my weekend relaxing with my family. Below is shot of the view of the lake from my brother’s cottage, and another of my nephew with the winning fish of the weekend.
*All photographs by D. Brazolot