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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Ross’s Ramblings: So much fun in NOTL — and celebrating freedom
Some 70 members of the Polish Scouting Association of Canada attend the memorial ceremony in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Sunday. ROSS ROBINSON

Could we have had any more fun in NOTL last weekend?

A sold out pickleball tournament at the two arenas in Virgil, with over 300 entrants — Dominic Ventresca and his Dominators tennis group showed former athletes can still “bring it” on Saturday morning.

The Sam Roberts Band at the Jackson Triggs amphitheatre. A very competitive cricket match in Veteran’s Memorial Park for farmworkers, sponsored by Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, with Baskin Robbins ice cream for dessert. Some 200 proud Volkswagen bugs rallying down Queen Street on Sunday afternoon. Live music and lots of dancing at the Irish Harp Pub and the Olde Angel Inn on Friday and Saturday nights.

Now, let’s ramble over to the St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery on Byron Street — and add in a serious reminder that our freedoms were hard won at a terrible cost not that long ago.

A large number of locals and visitors commemorated the 106th anniversary of the founding of Camp Kosciuszko, with a moving, perfectly organized and emotional ceremony at the Polish Soldier’s Burial Plot.

We paid homage to the more than 22,000 young Polish-American soldiers who came to Canada to train at the Tadeusz Kosciuszko Camp right here in NOTL. They later joined Gen. Joseph Haller and the Polish army to fight for freedom, rights and to bring about peace in their homeland.

Forty-one of them died of influenza while training here in 1917 and 1918.

Just think of the logistics of having this number of military personnel in NOTL. Feeding, medical, accommodation, sanitary … It boggles the mind. Where did they all go to the bathroom?

The ceremony was organized under the leadership of Zofia Soja, president of the Canadian Polish Congress, Niagara District. They dodged a bullet under threatening weather, with all musical cues hit perfectly.

The several speakers all delivered moving messages and they all respected the “three Bs” of public speaking. “Be brief, be sincere and be seated.”

Almost the entire two-and-a-half hour ceremony was conducted in Polish. The event started promptly at 12:30 p.m., with the Royal Canadian Legion Polish Veterans band from St. Catharines leading us in the Canadian, American and Polish national anthems (the Polish anthem is called Hymn Polski).

Happily, the organizers had “overspent on sound,” which allowed the hundreds of people to hear every musical note and every word from the speakers. Huzzah!

Yes, I am rambling a bit, but each year the ceremony has a profound effect on me. We have a very special way of life here in Canada. Our rights and freedoms didn’t come easily, but we tend to forget the horrors of wars fought mainly in Europe.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa eloquently welcomed everyone to our town and assured the assemblage that NOTL recognizes the importance of this cemetery plot and the memories of brave Polish volunteers.

Witold Dzielski, the Polish ambassador to Canada, told us that the people of Poland remain well aware of the significance of this Polish Soldier’s Burial Plot in Canada. Just two months ago, the vice-president of Poland and several high ranking Polish military officers were in Ottawa on official business and made a side-trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake and this meaningful and perfectly maintained cemetery. They remember.

Of particular note were the roughly sixty young Polish-Canadians who were representing Choragiew Harcerzy, the Polish Scouting Association in Canada. These sharply uniformed scouts joined the march to our cenotaph on Queen Street for final speeches and musical numbers.

According to their leader Stan Reitmeier, there are some 1,600 members of Choragiew Harcerzy in Canada, mostly in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. They study military history and learn the Polish language, in the attempt to keep Polish culture relevant.

While we in Canada tend to take our freedoms for granted, Polish people work very hard to remember and honour those who made the supreme sacrifice.

Even today, Poland is a leader in accepting refugees from the horrible war in Ukraine.

So, NOTLer nation, let’s mark June 9, 2024 on our calendars and attend the 107th anniversary of Camp Kosciuszko here in our peaceful part of the world.

Lest We Forget.

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