Association of Polish Engineers in Canada, Ottawa Branch Association of Polish Engineers in Canada, Ottawa Branch

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[source: Association of Polish Engineers in Canada (APEC) Head Office, History]

The beginnings of APEC can be traced back to the early years of the Second World War. After the finale of the September Campaign of 1939 (Poland's battle against the Hitler's invading forces), many Polish engineers took refuge, mainly into the United Kingdom, with some settling down in the unoccupied parts of France. At the same time, Canada entered into a stage a rapid development of its defensive industry and lacked in qualified technical workforce. It is thus not a surprise that during his visit to London, Canadian Minister of Munitions & Supply, C. D. Howe examined the option of inviting Polish professionals to Canada. Soon after, an agreement was concluded, according to which Polish engineers and technicians would come to Canada on temporary visas, « for the duration », to return to their Homeland after the victorious end of the war.

The earlier founded émigré associations of Polish professionals have facilitated the implementation of the idea. The Association of Polish Engineers and Technicians was founded by the refugees in the Fall of 1939 in France, and the Association of Polish Technicians was established in the United Kingdom by the end of 1940. The latter included the professionals who have arrived in the UK in the autumn of 1939 and by 1940, they were joined by evacuees from France.

On February 17th, 1941, just before the departure for Canada, during a meeting of the Association in London, as decision was made to set up a division of UK Association in Canada.

The first group of about 20 Polish engineers arrived at the port Halifax in March of 1941. As it had been earlier agreed, the just arrived engineers have called a meeting in Ottawa June 15th, 1941. Ever since it has been regarded as the First General Assembly of the Association representing 29 members. At that meeting, a significant resolution was undertaken - to create an independent Association of Polish Engineers in Canada, with its own Board of Directors and Audit Committee, and not but a division of the Association in the UK. By May of 1942, when the II General Assembly took place, 112 members were associated within the association. Amongst them, 40 came from the UK, 58 from France, 8 from Japan and 6 from Brazil.

The experienced engineers carried out the tasks assigned to them. This highly qualified group has made a considerable contribution to the Canadian war effort, it was recognized by the Canadian authorities. The accomplishments of Polish engineers and scientists were presented in a senate document, the « Proceedings of the Standing Committee on Immigration and Labour » of June 25th, 1946. It mentioned the implementation of five new and genuine manufacturing technologies, creating 6 new manufacturing plants, 35 new patents, 8 of which have been picked up by Canadian industry.

A quarterly magazine, entitled « The Polish Engineering Review », was published by the Association in 1944 and 1945. In 1946 it was transformed into Association's Bulletin.

The period between 1945 and 1947 was a critical stage in the life of the Association. Contrary to expectations, Poland was not among the victors. It was again betrayed and abandoned as it found itself in the Soviet « sphere of influence », as stipulated by the dictate agreed upon in Yalta. After hearing sinister news from Poland, many were not inclined to return and the majority decided to settle down in Canada. The separation from and concern about the fate of their families in Poland has had a devastating effect on the community. At the same time, Canadian manufacturing industry was being reorganized, from geared to the military to the times of peace. For many it meant they would be loosing their employment, change of employers and often, necessity to move to a new place of residence. The association is no longer a temporary assembly of people awaiting return to Poland. The Toronto branch starts intensive pursuits within the Department of Immigration to enable the immigration of many of its colleagues dispersed all around the world. Thanks to those efforts, 270 engineers and technicians have settled in Canada.

In the early fifties, Polish soldiers from units stationed in the West during the war, who after demobilization found themselves in the UK, started arriving in Canada. While still in Great Britain, many took advantage of government's assistance and took up studies, mainly at the Polish University College. Once in Canada, they were by far better off than the previous waves of immigrants. They had British diplomas and spoke the language. Many from amongst them become very active within the Association, which reinforced by the « British contingent », blossomed and flourished for the next twenty years. Lectures and social events were held, and the yearly Carnival Balls, attended by political celebrities, were noted in the press.

Members of the Association participated in the organization of festivities to commemorate the Millennium of Poland's Christianity (1966). As a result of their initiative, a monument honoring Copernicus, and funded by the Polish Diaspora, was donated to the city of Montreal. As was the monument of Sir Kazimierz Gzowski, patron of the Association, in Toronto. Members of the Association participated in the endeavors of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which can be credited for establishing the policy of multiculturalism in Canada. The Ottawa branch set off the initiative of providing assistance to the Catholic University of Lublin. The branch initiated the pan-Canadian festivities to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Copernicus. It culminated with the donation, in the name of all Canadians, of a spectroscope to the University of Toruń in Poland.

Few immigrants made it to Canada in the Sixties and Seventies. Subsequent wave, the biggest since the Second World War, began after the « Blazing August of 1980 ». Refugee camps were filled with Polish refugees, many of which had technical education and were trying to migrate to Canada. Those that made it, had enormous difficulties finding employment and even if they did, seldom did the jobs meet their qualifications. Yet again, the members of the Association came forward offering to help. Courses on professional adaptation for newly arrived engineers and technicians were organized, funded by the Ministry of Immigration and Employment. The courses were very popular among the immigrants and have attracted many new members to the association.

The Association faced new challenges after the political transitions of 1989, when Poland finally regained independence. In 19990, the Association set up a Committee for Technological Cooperation with Poland, which conducts variety of activities, such as:

  • organizing lectures
  • cooperating with universities in Poland
  • consulting
  • assisting Polish researches visiting Canada
  • translations.

In September 1994, the Committee at the Polish Canadian Chamber of Commerce has arranged for Canadian businessmen to meet Polish trade representatives, who came to Canada accompanying the President of Poland. In 194-95, the Committee has extended its aide to Polish communities in Lithuania, such as the Association of Polish Schools' Teachers and the Polish University in Vilnius.

The association was actively cooperating with the Polish Canadian Congress (PCC) since 1946, the local branches have elected delegates to of the Congress. Many from amongst them have played important role on the Congress' board, and engineers Z. Jaworski Z. Jarmicki, S. Orłowski and A. Garlicki have all been at one time elected to serve as presidents of the executive.

Today, the Association has 8 branches in Edmonton, Hamilton, Kitchener, Mississauga, Montreal, Oshawa, Ottawa and Toronto with approximately 500 members. At the 42nd General Assembly in Ottawa, in October of 1996, the Polish name of the organization was changed from « Stowarzyszenie Techników Polskich w Kanadzie » (STP) to « Stowarzyszenie Inżynierów Polskich w Kanadzie » (SIP, which is the literal translation of both the English and the French equivalent).

The main objective of the Association today is to determine new forms of organizational activities, which would meet the changing expectations of its members, who represent diverse generations and different ties with Poland.

Grzegorz Sobocki

Translation from Polish by Włodzimierz Ciepała.

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