On November 12th Jesse Flis, the retired long standing Member of Parliament, was awarded the second highest civilian order of Poland: the Polonia Restituta. Several members of the Association of Polish Engineers in Canada attended the event:
Mr. Flis is an honorary member of the Association of Polish Engineers in Canada.
Mr. Flis, and the late senator Stanley Haidasz, are considered by many to be godfathers of the Polish post-Solidarity immigrants who landed in Canada. At the time, many people of Polish heritage were spread throughout the world, many of them living in countries that didn't or wouldn't recognize them as citizens. Both gentlemen lobbied hard to correct this, with the federal government of Canada finally amending and softening its immigration law as a result. Many Poles, some already living in Canada, were now legally allowed to settle and obtain citizenship in the country. The legacy of Mr. Flis' work was far reaching, benefiting many different ethnic groups who, over time, found themselves in similar situations to those from Poland, such as those escaping Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In a ceremony held at the Polish Combatants hall on Beverley St. in Toronto, Mr. Flis and his achievements in immigration reform received much deserved recognition.
Mr. Flis attended the ceremony with most of his family, and he introduced them. In his speech he quoted the most important facts from his family life. He was born in 1933 in Fosston, Saskatchewan, where he finished his elementary and high school. He obtained his post secondary education. in Ontario, including a masters degree in education. He was president of one of the Polish-Canadian organisations in Saskatchewan. He met his future wife, who was a dancer in a Polish dancing group, in one of Polish organisations’ meetings. Mr. Flis’ wife was living with her family in Montreal. She and her family came to Canada through the Soviet Union, being sent to a labour camp in Siberia. She was 9 weeks old when she and her family were deported from then occupied Poland by Russia. The whole family, father, mother and nine children, was sent to Siberia, where one of her siblings died from starvation. When her mother was asked why she did not give away her nine weeks old baby to some other people where she would have had more chance to survive, she answered: "I raised eight children, and I am also going to raise the ninth.”
Mr. Flis talked about the visit to Toronto by Maria Kaczynska in March 2010. Maria Kaczynska was the wife of the late President Lech Kaczynski. Mr. Flis was assisting Maria Kaczynska in her tour in Toronto. Ms. Kaczynska was invited to Copernicus Lodge on Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto. There she was welcomed with open arms and tears by the Copernicus Lodge residents. A lot of people cried and shared tears from sheer joy and happiness. When Ms. Kaczynska was leaving, the Copernicus Lodge residents asked her to come back with her husband, president Lech Kaczynski. Ms. Kaczynska answered: we will come, for sure we will. A month later they both died in the Smoleńsk tragedy. Mr. Flis said he received this order from the next president of Poland and for that God Bless You!
Mr. Krzysztof Kasprzyk received Knight’s Cross, Order of Merit (Krzyż Kawalerski Orderu Zasługi). Mr. Kasprzyk is a former Polish disident.
During the event two combatants, Mr. Ludomir Blicharski and Mr. Boleslaw Chamot, obtained nominations to a higher officer's rank. The nominations were given by the daughter of the famous general Anders, Ms. Anne Maria Anders-Costa, who was especially invited for the ceremony, and by representatives of the Polish government.
Some very emotional speeches were made by the representatives of the Polish government and by members of federal parliament Mr. Ted Opitz and Mr. Wladyslaw Lizon.
Among other things, Mr. Opitz mentioned that by the decision of the Russia’s government he is forbidden to enter Russia because of his involvement and support of Ukrainian sovereignty. Mr. Opitz said that he considers this penalty reversible as an award.
Mr. Lizon shared his memories from a visit in the Netherlands, at the biggest Canadian war cemetery in Europe. When walking through the cemetery he noticed a grave with a Polish last name engraved on the tomb. Below the soldier’s name there were written words in Polish language: ”Jednego my go mieli, jednego stracili, co by inni żyli.” (We had one son and we lost him so the others could live.)
The ceremony also had an artistic component. A piano concert together with singers followed. The concert was performed by pianist Mr. Janusz Bosak, by singer Ms. Kinga Mitrowska, and by singer Anna Wójcik, a young and talented student of Ms. Mitrowska. The beautiful Irish song ”O Danny Boy” and the song ”Somewhere” from the musical ”West Side Story – America” were performed. What a choice of songs! The Irish song ’O Danny Boy” was written at the beginning of the twentieth century. "O Danny Boy" is a nostalgic song about a farewell to the beloved country. Then the second one was a duet by Anna Wójcik and Kinga Mitrowska with piano accompaniment by Janusz Bosak. The song sounded exceptionally beautiful. How else could it be, since it was sung for the combatants and exiles who were forced to leave their home country after the Solidarity uprising. From the song ”Somewhere”, the words ”There's a place for us, Somewhere a place for us...” were particularly moving and reminded us of our many troubled times, until finally many of us found peaceful settlement in Canada.
Let’s quote the words of Mr. Jesse Flis, the godfather of these post-Solidarity immigrants: ”God Bless You!” God Bless for the beautiful voices, for the concert, for the ceremony! God Bless for the nominations and for the sponsoring of the ceremony by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Toronto.
Janusz Niemczyk APEC Toronto
Photo Marek Gołdyn