Polish festival celebrates fifth year

Organizers hope people will learn more about Polish culture, history and modern day Poland at the Fifth Annual Polish Festival, taking place at Lynn Valley Village on Sept. 3.

According to the 2011 Statistics Canada Census profile there are 17,460 people of Polish descent in British Columbia.

“The [Polish] community has so much to offer. We have a beautiful culture, which teaches values, shows beauty, shows you how to respect others, older parents, family. I discovered after living here for a couple of years that a lot of people remember only the old Poland – a lot of people did not know too much about our country,” says Urszula Sulinska, president of the Belweder North Shore Polish Association who was born in Warsaw, Poland.

Dancers at a previous Polish Festival in Vancouver. | Photo courtesy of Urszula Sulinska

Cultural reminiscing

Sulinska came to Canada in 1987 when Poland was still under communist rule. In November of 1988, the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic issued a declaration of sovereignty, which would eventually lead to other states making similar declarations of autonomy. After this revolution, Sulinska says travel to Poland became much easier.

Sulinska’s family misses Poland and their culture. They had close-knit ties with the Polish community so they also missed their relatives and friends. They keep their culture alive by speaking Polish at home and by sending their daughter to Poland for vacations to help keep her connection with her heritage and culture.

“It is very important when you raise children that you have family around. We had different values and education. Friendships were valuable to us. The Western world values money too much,” she says.

At the Polish festival, pictures of several cities will be featured, including Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk and Wroclaw.

“Poland is a country that is more than 1,000 years old, so the architecture in our cities is very different from Canadian cities,” says Sulinska.

A dream becomes reality

Sulinska also misses the Polish culture, movies and television programs, theatre and concerts. So in 1989 she started a Polish program on the Multicultural channel, which was Rogers Cable at the time, and began importing programs from Poland to air. Now, with the Internet, YouTube and hundreds of channels, people can access Polish content more easily, she notes.

As an association, the Belweder North Shore Polish Association organizes events, lectures, concerts and social meetings. Sulinska attended a few festivals regarding other cultures, such as Italian, Greek and Fusion in Surrey, and thought they should have one for the Polish community.

After meeting with the Polish Consul General, Sulinska and her friends asked him for the support and got it. The Association also secured other sources of income and found people who were interested in performing. In 2013, the first Polish Festival Vancouver debuted.

Festival events

We always have very interesting programs, which include a theatrical play for kids each year, puppet theatres and exhibitions. Every year we have a different one showing something related to Poland. Last year, it was about Polish modern architecture,” says Sulinska.

Polish traditional costumes. | Photo courtesy of Urszula Sulinska

There are folk dance group performers who wear traditional costumes, as well as young singers and bands.

“There is something for everyone to see. We have good food, vendors showing their art. Our festival is getting more and more popular. The only limitation is money – with the grants we never know if we will get them this particular year, so it is difficult to plan or hire somebody professional to perform,” says Sulinska.

For more information, please visit www.belweder.org.