google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html What Genealogy Taught Me about Being a Canadian | The Armchair Genealogist

What Genealogy Taught Me about Being a Canadian

Thirty-three years ago, I wrote an essay for the Kinsmen Club Heritage Essay Contest. The topic; what it means to be a Canadian. As a young teen, with a limited knowledge of history, genealogy, and Canada, I can’t imagine the depths of my words and thoughts. I’m sure they were the heartfelt words of a 13 year old. Motivated to enter a writing contest, clearly, I had a sense of national pride even then. I would dearly love to see that essay today, I would probably cringe, however curious to read my 13 year old point of view.

I'm the short dorky looking one.
Growing up, when someone asked about my nationality, I always said Canadian; however, I quickly qualified it by explaining my Polish, German and French heritage. With a surname like Kowalsky, my Polish roots were always very clear. Our Polish heritage and tale of arrival was a story we all knew.

In taking up genealogy, I learned very quickly just how much of a Canadian I really am. Although my great-grandfather Adam Kowalsky arrived from Poland in the early 1900’s, he was in fact the last of my immigrant family to arrive in Canada.

My German roots had been well established in this country since the mid 1800’s, my Irish heritage, even earlier. The Phelan’s and Stapleton’s were some of the first pioneers in the dense bush of Upper Canada in the early 19th century; both families arrived long before Canada was Canada.

My French Canadian branch really dates my family to the very beginnings of this country. In the early days when this country was creating a foundation, communities and stumbling through its infancy, my mother’s family, the Desmarais and Vaillancourt family both arrived to a land known as New France in the early 17th century.

For the better part of my life, I was defined by my Polish immigrant great-grandfather, who spoke broken English, was a loyal Canadian, and shared no memories of his native Poland with us. He always said, Canada gave him everything and he never looked back. Back to his peasant life in a war-torn country with no rights or freedoms, he came to Canada, worked hard, raised a large family, owned land, and died knowing he had brought the Kowalsky family name to a better place in the world. His sacrifice, he never saw his parents again. He was not alone; his was the story of many Canadian immigrants.

However, what I’ve learned more than anything from my family history, I am very much a Canadian, born from the descendants of some of the most selfless, hard-working, inspirational ancestors, who sacrificed, laboured, and built a country. They came here as farmers, peasants, oppressed, they fought class restrictions, religious persecution, war, disease and great personal and financial losses. They arrived to a land, covered in dense bush, severe weather, no laws, no government, no churches and no education system. They built a country, one of the finest in the world.

A country is not just land and lakes, cities and skyscrapers, it is the love, the desire and the hard work of all those who dared to dream. Generations of ancestors who courageously took up the cause to create a country that could be all things to all people.

On this July 1st, this Canada Day, I reflect and write once again on what it means to be a Canadian. No less proud, but certainly far more educated, on the incredible people who made it happen.

From my genealogy journey, I learned “I am a Canadian.”

Not a Polish Canadian, not an Irish Canadian not even a French Canadian, but a Canadian, I no longer feel the need to qualify my nationality by my ancestor’s roots.

Still very proud of my ancestor’s stories, I understand that their ultimate goal was to be a Canadian. My  great-grandfather was not ashamed of his Polish heritage, but proud of his Canadian nationality, and wanted his family to think of themselves as Canadian first. Poland was his past, but Canada was our future.

Genealogy remains important in the telling of these stories, keeping alive the memories of the men and women who dared to dream of a Canada. Genealogy is important in educating our children and the generations to come that the Canada that offers them so many privileges today, came on the backs of thousands of immigrants. It was their sweat, their sacrifices, and their vision that shaped this country, so that we can proudly stand up and call ourselves Canadian.

Therefore, with a glowing heart, I celebrate July 1st, and respectfully call myself a Canadian.


1 comment:

  1. Bravo! What a wonderful post. As a fellow Canadian, I got misty eyed just reading this. I know just what you mean.

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