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Summer 2008 -
Renfrew Celebrates its Polish Kashub Heritage with a Special Display at the McDougall Mill Museum
in honour of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Kashubs to Canada in 1858.
 Display by Shirley Mask Connolly,
Curator of the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum, Wilno
in co-operation with the McDougall Mill Museum, Renfrew

The colourful Polish Kashub tribute display at the Renfrew Museum during the summr of 2008 features photos, family tree books, and information on many of Renfrew's original Polish Kashub families, with a glass showcase displaying personal items, dishes etc. of a distinguished Renfrew woman who could trace her roots back to Kashubian Poland -"Lizzie" / Elizabeth Cecilia Sulpher nee Kuash,(1885-1977), daughter of Kashubian Immigrants, John Kuash/Kujach & Anna Blawat, who arrived in Canada in 1872, and wife of Michael Joseph aka Mick aka M.J. Sulpher (1886-1964), successful builder and contractor [he was also the child of Kashubian immigrants; he built the present day Roman Catholic churches in Wilno and Round Lake - St. Mary's and St. Casimir's- and many other churches, schools etc.].

The Renfrew display also features some of the clothing of Lizzie's mother, Anna Kuash [actually spelled Kujach in Kashub] nee Blawat who arrived in Canada in 1872 on board the ship the Agda along with her husband and his two children from his first marriage. She and John lost a child who died on the voyage, but they baptized seven more children in Renfrew, the place she called home from the time of her arrival in Canada. Unlike the majority of Kashubian immigrants, the Kuashs did not seek to make a life on the wild free grant lands of Renfrew County, but stayed in the village of Renfrew. John Kuash/Kujach worked as a labourer and they did very well, eventually acquiring three Town Lots .

 [Thanks to David & Carol Sulpher for providing artifacts & assisting with this display. Other artifacts from the Collection of the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum, Wilno & Shirley Mask Connolly, Curator. Also thanks to Dick Cobus for his contribution of photos, his Cobus family tree book and his help in setting up the display. And to Lila Prince for her extensive collection of family tree books on the Mackwood, Prince, Lemenchick, Utronki etc. families. Family books on the Rouble, Kluke, Lepack, Yackoback families also on display.]

Marcella Cybulski, Carol Sulpher, Shirley & Dick Cobus

For the Kashubian immigrant families who farmed the unforgiving soil covered with rocks and forest in the far reaching limits of the County of Renfrew or the Polish Hills of Quebec, it was a hard struggle to get more than the basic necessities of life. But they were hard working and frugal and made good homes for their families. They supplemented the meager income from their farms by doing bush work in the winter months. They were industrious, resourceful and independent - a dignified people who attended church faithfully and were well-respected in the community.

For Kashubian families who lived in or near Renfrew and became labourers in the mills, lime kiln or on the railroad, a good wage was the reward of their labour and eventually gave them the financial resources to acquire property in or near town.

The Renfrew display provides some contrast to displays at the Polish Kashub Museum/Skansen in Wilno where you can learn much more about the story of Canada's Kashubian Immigrants - most of whom sought land to farm as they were landless farm labourers in the old country. However, the Museum in Wilno tells the story of all of Canada's Kashubs, wherever they might live - town or farm; Renfrew County, Ontario or Leslie County, Quebec.

Also, one must not forget the close connection between these Kashubian immigrant families. For example: Lizzie Sulpher's uncle, Casimir Kujach, and his family lived near Wilno and used the spelling Kuiack for their surname. M.J's sister, Eva Sulpher, married Frank Shulist of Wilno and was the manageress of the famous Wilno Exchange Hotel.

Marcella  Cybulski                       & Carol (Cybulski) Sulpher

They lived different lives, these KASHUBS - in the country and in town, but they shared the same values including determination, industriousness and strong religious conviction. They also shared cultural heritage - and so initially the Polish Kashub "town people" passed on their language to their children [like Lizzie Sulpher who still spoke the Kashub language of her parents, but was equally fluent writing and speaking English].

But in town, it was harder to maintain the language and traditions. They did not have the advantage of a Polish parish church or Polish classes. Town children were made fun of for their old country ways and some families changed their surnames to sound less foreign or because people had so much trouble pronouncing and /or spelling their names - and so Dzwonkowski became Swan; some Cybulskis became King; etc.  However, on the farms in the Polish Community near Wilno and Barry's Bay and Round Lake, they were more isolated and the Polish Kashub language survived longer as did some of the old traditions, especially the religious traditions. The fact that these communities had their own Polish parishes was also of great importance in preserving the culture.

But the Renfrew Polish Kashub Community Has Never Forgotten its Roots and is Proud to Celebrate its HeritageThe Renfrew display not only provides us a glimpse into the life of a successful Renfrew family of Kashubian descent, but also a glimpse back to Kashubia: with descriptions of the Kashub people and where they came from, an antique woman's fancy dress costume with colourful patterns used for embroidery and for decorating pottery and dishes, etc.

Thanks to the McDougall Mill Museum for providing the space and the opportunity for this important exhibit; and special thanks to Carol and David Sulpher, Marcella Cybulski and Dick Cobus for loaning artifacts and providing assistance in setting up and dismantling this display.

Kashubian visitors from Poland visit the Renfrew exhibit
August 2008.

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