Polish Books, Chopin and Pierogi at Your Library / Po Polsku w Bibiotece

October 3, 2016 | Iana

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When composer and virtuoso pianist Frederic Chopin died in 1849 his body was buried in Paris, but his heart was taken to Warsaw, Poland's capital and interred in a pillar at the Holy Cross Church. That was the composer's wish on his deathbed. And that is how much he loved his fatherland Poland, which he never got a chance to see again during his years in exile.
Polish communities around the world cherish deeply their history and cultural heritage. Did you know that according to the 2011 Census by Statistics Canada, there were 1,010,705 Canadians of at least partial Polish heritage? It is one of the largest and oldest immigrant communities in Canada richly contributing to its art and cultural landscape.
Our Polish collections enable you to access the country's best contemporary literature and arts as well. Toronto Public Library has Polish collections of books for adults and children, DVDs, magazines in twelve of its 100 branches. Large collections can be found in the West End - at High Park, Long Branch, Mimico Centennial, New Toronto, Runnymede branches and at Cedrabrae branch and Toronto Reference Library. In addition, medium collections are located at Brentwood, Jane/Dundas, Richview branches. Two small collections can be found at Eatonville and Parkdale branches. You can visit any of those libraries to borrow Polish materials or you can browse the library's online catalogue and place holds on materials that you choose to request. A free library card is required to use borrow materials and access the library's online resources. If you are not yet a member, but you live, study, work or own property in Toronto - find out how to get your free library card.

 Polish Vigil at City Hall in support of SOlidarnosc 1981 Torstar archivesPolish history is long and tumultuous. As a start check out Prof. Norman Davies' classic study of the history of Poland titled God's Playground: A history of Poland in two volumes, revised edition 2005.

Polish Language

Mango Language LearningPolish language is a West Slavic language, nuanced and expressive and considered quite difficult to learn, in part due to the challenging pronunciation, seven cases and verbs that conjugate for gender, person, mood and time!! If you would like to learn some Polish language beyond "Tak" (= Yes), "Dzień dobry" (= Hello), "Lubię piwo" (= I like beer), "Dziękuję bardzo" (=Thank you very much) - try the library's online language service Mango Languages. You can create an account to track your progress.

Polish Music

Polish music is more than just Chopin. Borrow CDs from Toronto Public Library or listen to e-music for free with your library card in the streaming service Naxos Music Library. There is great Polish classical, folk, jazz and rock music to enjoy. Polish Christmas songs (kolędy) are one of the most beautiful to listen.

Image above: "Polish Vigil: Dick Przygova salutes as fellow demonstrators sing at Nathan Philips Square last night. More than 2500 turned out to protest martial law in Poland". 1981 copyright  Toronto Star Digital Archives at Toronto Public Library.



 Polish Festival folk dancers 2016

Polish folk dancers on stage during the 2016 annual Roncesvalles Polish Festival in Toronto. Photo credit: Ania K.


Pierogi and other delicacies

If you'd like to try and make pierogi at home - we have this Pierogi Love book for you. Even better - get together with your Polish friend's grandma (babcia) - I am almost certain that she will show you how to make pierogi from scratch and they will be better than in any restaurant or store. Take a stroll along Roncesvalles Avenue in the heart of "Polish Toronto" and sit in for dinner at Cafe Polonez and shop at the local grocery store Benna's Bakery & Deli. A little further in the Bloor West Village there is Amber restaurant and Kingsway Meat Deli  - a really good grocer too. For any other and all of your Polish food cravings - visit the epic supermarket Starsky in Mississauga, which Eastern Europeans from all of GTA and many local shoppers visit for the delicious, fresh products and the excellent variety and service. Starsky's deli and cheese section is easily bigger than my living room.


Pierogi Love book     In a Polish Country House Kitchen book     The food and cooking of Poland


Image below: Karol Cardinal Wojtyla: Archbishop of Cracow, Poland and the future Pope John Paul II, takes time out for cup of coffee with host Father Michael Smith; right; in Port Credit, while visiting Polish communities in Canada. 1969 Copyright Toronto Star Digital Archives at Toronto Public Library.

Pope John Paul II visting Toronto Toronto Star archivesFor a more intimate Polish immersion explore the many Polish sites in Roncesvalles Village, including St. Casimir's Church and the statue of Pope John II, the "Polish Pope" in front of the credit union. There are always candles and fresh flowers at the Pope's statue.

Down near the lake you will find the Copernicus retirement home and the Katyn Monument. The inscription reads: "In remembrance of fifteen thousand Polish prisoners of war who vanished in 1940 from the camps in USSR at Kozelsk, Ostashkov, Starobelsk. Of these over four thousand were later discovered in mass graves at Katyn, near Smolensk, murdered by the Soviet state security police."

Polish cinema

Andrzej Wajda's film “Katyn” (2007) about the mass execution of Polish military officers by the Soviet Union during World War II, which was carefully concealed by the Polish communist authorities after the war,  is a harrowing work. There are also the other great Polish masters - Kieszlowski, Polanski, Zanussi and a lot of great contemporary cinema. Check out some classic  Polish cinema in the Criterion streaming film service (free with a library card) or borrow a good Polish film on DVD, there are close to 300 Polish DVD titles at the library, a lot of excellent contemporary works too.


Other great Poles

Poland gave to the world great minds: Copernicus, Marie Curie-Sklodowska and Pope John Paul II, Jan Sobieski and Casimir III the Great, Kosciuszko and Pilsudski, Sienkiewicz, Mickiewicz and Chopin, Janusz Korczak, Lech Walesa and Solidarnosc, Szymborska, Agnieszka Holland, Czesław Miłosz and Gombrowicz, Brzezinski and Kapuscinski. And many others.


In the heart of the Roncesvalles village there is the charming High Park Library Branch (pictured below) - a Carnegie building and celebrating in fact this month 100 years of service in the community! Polish seniors gather there often to discuss politics and read the local Polish newspaper "Gazeta". Happy Centennial anniversary, High Park Branch! 


High park branchPolish literature is a treasure among the European cultures and there is a lot available in translation in English. 11 Great Polish Books You Have to Read (culture.pl, 2016) is a good list for starters. Many Polish authors in translation and in Polish can be found at Toronto Public Library.

Polish Book Club at Runnymede Library. The book club was founded in 2007 by three Polish librarians at TPL. Discuss a great Polish book(s) each month. Contact the library for a list of upcoming titles. This program is conducted in Polish.

Polish Family Storytime/Spotkanie z Bajka at Long Branch Library - for years a staff member from the Long Branch Library has been offering a very popular Polish storytime for ages 3-6 with Polish stories, finger plays, songs and traditions.

In addition - kids can listen to Polish stories by computer or phone: Hear nine children's stories (bajki) in Polish on the library's KidsSpace website. Or dial-a-story in Polish by calling the library's Dial-a-Story number 416-395-5400.


How do Polish Canadian writers in Toronto identify and create? Here are four authors that are worth discovering:

Eva Stachniak became a best-selling writer of historic fiction in her adopted English language with "Winter Palace";

Andrew Borkowski wrote "Copernicus Avenue" - a wonderful collection of short stories from Roncesvalles Village (a.k.a "Little Poland") and his experience growing up with one foot in the Polish community and one foot out;

Aga Maksimowska's "Giant" speaks with the angst of the teenage experience of immigration From Poland to Canada. Delicious descriptions too of Babcia's kitchen in Poland.

Jowita Bydlowska writes in a powerful, honest, raw way in "Drunk Mom". Bydlowska shared for the National Post in 2014 the essay "On having another “immigrant story”. It offers a fresh and honest perspective of a young Polish Canadian writer about writing, staying away from immigrant stereotypes and living in two languages and two literary traditions.


Winter Palace   Copernicus Avenue   Giant   Drunk Mom A Memoir


As a final treat - I would like to end with the beautiful music of Chopin as performed by the outstanding Polish Canadian pianist and a Chopin interpreter Janina Fialkowska.



Bonus track: Basia Bulat Live at Massey Hall, July 20, 2014 - a live performance of the young and very talented Basia Bulat, a Canadian folk singer and songwriter.


Find Poland at your Library! Dziękuję bardzo!


Read a previous post about Polish Storytimes & Children's Collections at Toronto Public Library.

Read our previous blog post and a great story about Ukrainian at Your Library.