Wanda Buska – A music teacher and a community activist
I was born on December 9, 1901 in Lwów. Before the second ward war I completed my studies at the Academy of Music in Lwów and I was teaching in the Pedagogical High School in Warsaw. I also taught summer courses for teachers in Krzemieniec Podolski. My husband who was a doctor was mobilized in 1939. He had to report in Brześć on Bóg, where we tried to go in a hired horse drown buggy through roads overcrowded by refugees. We did not succeed and we stayed in Poland. During the war I was involved in underground activities of AK. In 1944, when Russians were advancing on Poland, my husband managed to obtain a permit to go to Prague where he studied and where he has friends. From Prague we managed to get through to American occupied zone of Germany, and from there, via Italy to England. We had a nephew in the Polish Army in England, who lost his father in Katyń and his mother in Kazakhstan, and he helped us to go to Scotland where his unit stationed. Later on, my husband got a job in a hospital in London. His sister who had a farm in Ontario sent the necessary papers and we came to Canada in 1948.
At the beginning our life in Canada was very hard. My husband could not practice medicine until he passed the necessary examination. His first job, as a hospital orderly, was psychologically unbearable and he started working as a laborer. A good while later, he got a job as bacteriologist. I lived with my sons on the farm of my sister-in-law. When I moved to Toronto, I met friends from P.D. Camps in Germany, who remembered how I organized a choir and a Christmas play there. They influenced me to produce and direct a Christmas play in December of 1948, in Toronto. This play was written and published by me in Poland in 1938. The performance was a success. It took place in the hall of Claremont of the Polish Alliance. During Christmas of the following year, I was in Delhi where I was running a Polish school and where my Christmas play was produced again under my direction. In 1950, I was approached to organize a Polish Alliance choir for a monthly salary of $100. At least I was able to earn some money. For a new immigrant it was very important, all the more so, since I was able to earn a salary practicing my own profession. In addition I was playing the organ in the Polish community in Canada. In 1950 I published my first book in Canada. It was a selection of songs under the title “Pieśni nasza siej swój czar” (Song of ours sow your charm!). The book was published by the Educational Council of the Polish Alliance. My Christmas play was performed several times in Toronto, also in Hamilton, St. Catharine’s and Oshawa. About 50 persons took part in the play. In 1952 I produced my own show “Nie ma jak nasz kraj” (There is nothing like our country). 30 persons took part in this show. The dances were prepared by the ballet master Wojciech Kociak. We performed in Hamilton, and Oshawa besides Toronto. I followed my husband to Montreal from Toronto. I was working there as a cook in the Redemptories Father’s Monastery. They liked my steaks. My husband moved on to Edmonton. The doctors in Montreal suspected I might have cancer and advised me an operation. I had to sell what I had in a hurry and came to Edmonton in February, 1954. The tumor proved to be non-malignant but fate proved to be mischievous. My husband started chicken farm near Edmonton. The hens were almost old enough to start laying eggs when we had very bad storm one night. When I went to feed the birds the next morning I nearly fainted when I saw all the birds lying dead with severed necks on the ground. A beech marten got into the chicken coop during the storm. We left the farm for Edmonton. We were often hungry. Sometimes Father Nagengast for whom I played the organ during evening prayers brought us something to eat after the festive wedding. Then we had a feast. I once suggested to Father Nagengast that we should open a Polish Saturday school. Father called a parent’s meeting and about 50 children, 5 to 14 years old were enrolled. I became their teacher. Mrs. Jankowska-Zygiel took older children and I had the younger ones. Most of the children came from the families of new immigrants, only a few were from old immigration. We taught them reading and writing in Polish, some history and geography of Poland and at the end of each Saturday session all children had a class with me of Polish songs and dance. Father taught them religion. Soon afterwards the very young children were put in the kindergarten in the Veteran’s Home with first Mrs. Łukasiewicz and later Mrs. S. Wawrzynowska in charge.
Simultaneously with the work in the Polish school I was giving music lessons. At first my pupils came from Polish families only and often were the same that came to the Saturday school. After some time however, I had more pupils from various ethnic groups. I gave piano, violin, accordion and guitar lessons. There were times when I had 70 pupils and my hands were full. In time, I had to reduce the number of pupils I accepted, for health reason, and I gave only four hours of lessons per day. I also gave up my work as a teacher in Polish Saturday school, after two years and devoted all my efforts to my music school.
In 1956, I organized in Edmonton a troupe of Song and Dance Funs (Zespół Miłośników Pieśni i Tańca), which took part in various festivals. We rehearsed at first in my house, where there was not enough space but the atmosphere did not lack in enthusiasm. There were many young people who joined the troupe, danced together and often married within the group. When the Polish Hall in Edmonton was being build the income from our performances was donated to the building fund. We had, at times 24 dancing couples. Costumes were made by me and Mrs. Fedorzewska. From Poland I imported a lot of music scores by Polish composers and I was giving them away as presents to my Canadian colleagues, when I discovered that their knowledge about the Polish musical achievements is very slight and superficial. My dancing troupe gave several performances to all-Canadian audiences, for example they danced in the Jubilee Auditorium. My pupils gave public concerts. I tried to include to their repertoire some music by Polish composers. I also took part as a judge, in competitions of young musically talented people, organized by the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues. I gave talks in English about Polish Folklore and costumes.
For several years I was in charge of the Polish radio program. This program existed in Edmonton many years before I came here and I was initiated by pre-war immigrants – Mr. Jan Liss and Father Kałużny. Later Mr. and Mrs. Henzel, Mrs. M. Jabłońska, and Mrs. K. Koskowski directed it. I took over in June, 1958 and was in charge for three years. We had ½ hour on CKUA, once a week. In 1960, I organized a Wednesday 1/2 hour in the evening, on the French Station, as a paid program. The money to pay for it came from advertising Polish Firms. I gave historical, literary and music talks, appealed for funds needed to finish Polish Hall and played Polish music.
Both my sons belonged to Polish Scouts, Julian at the age of 14 was instrumental in the initiation of the first Polish Scouts Group. In 1954 he talked a few boys from the Polish School into coming to the first meeting. A senior boy scout – Mr. Gołas was supposed to conduct the meeting, but he could not come. The first few meetings were conducted by my son Julian. Afterwards, when he went to University, he started the Association of Polish Students in Edmonton. He worked then in close cooperation with Dr. Chrzanowski. He was also, for a period of time, secretary to the Alberta Branch of the Canadian-Polish Congress. Julian achieved Phd of Humanistic studies and my other son Zbigniew is an ophthalmologist in Edmonton.
I have been engaged in social work ever since I grew up. In Canada, I started social work for the Polish community in 1949. I wrote articles published in “Zwiazkowiec” Czas” and “Biuletyn KPK” and also book ‘My kitchen” published by the Polish-Canadian Women’s Federation in Edmonton. In 1961, however I withdrew completely from the Polish social life and affairs for a period of two years. Those two years represent a great moral suffering for me. I was accused of and attacked, in a way which was completely unexpected and unjustified, for communist indoctrination, after my short stay in Poland. During my Polish radio program, I read an appeal to the children that they should not forget their Polish language. The appeal was originally written by Mrs. Gajdowa in Poland, but it was also printed in the Polish paper “Czas”, published in Canada. I did not see anything wrong in that appeal, but as it turned out “I put the stick in the anthill”. Having left Poland because of the communism, I was accused of being a communist. This created such an atmosphere around me that I resigned from conducting the Polish radio program and also from work in the Polish-Canadian Woman’s Federation, Alberta Branch of that organization which was initiated by me and I put into first years of its activities a lot of effort and a lot of heart.
Wanda Buska died of heart condition on June 28, 1983. For her intensive social work she was decorated by the government of RP in exile (London) with cross of merit (1978) and later she received the highest award in our province – Achievement Award, from the government of Alberta. She was also distinguished with recognition diplomas and honorary badges by the Canadian Polish Congress, Alberta Branch.
Developed by Canadian Polish Historical Society
Polish Settlers in Alberta; 40 Lat Federacji Polek w Kanadzie, Ogniwo nr 3 (1958-1998)