The first known Slavic immigrants to permanently settle in St. Albert were Anna Wolniewicz and her young daughter Marie. They came from Częstochowa, in the Russian Partition, where life was difficult and the government actively suppressed Polish language and culture. In 1907 Anna’s husband made the decision to come to Canada. Two of Anna’s brothers were already in the Edmonton area and he managed to get a job working on the construction of the High Level Bridge. Anna’s brother, Father Francis Olszewski, was one of the first Polish priests to serve in Western Canada.
Anna brought five-year-old Marie to Alberta in 1908, but tragically within a year her husband died. Perhaps because of Father Francis’ connection to the Church, and because she thought that a small town would be a better life for Marie, Anna moved to St. Albert. Marie went on to become one of the town’s most beloved teachers, a story that you can find later on in the exhibit.
In some ways the Wolniewicz’s were fortunate to have left Poland when they did. With the outset of the First World War, the country was thrown into turmoil. By the end of the War its’ borders were again redrawn, reuniting the three Partitions, which included many Ukrainian regions. This new and independent Polish republic was called “The Second Polish Republic”.
The end of the First World War war did not mean peace for the Polish or Ukrainian people. In 1918 Poland entered into a one-year conflict with the West Ukrainian People’s Republic over control of Eastern Galicia.
In 1919 the Polish-Soviet War began over disputed regions of the Partitions that had been lost to the Soviets. The War continued for two years, resulting in the division of the territories between Poland and Soviet Russia. Several more families came to St. Albert in the 1920’s following this period of upheaval.