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Poland in the Rockies, affectionately known as PitR, was dreamed up by Calgary-based lawyer, Tony Muszynski, whose idea was to create the kind of program that he would have liked – and needed – when he was a university student. He wanted something to bring together young people curious about Poland with some of the best authorities on Polish history and culture, and put them in a beautiful setting where they could talk, listen, and make friends. Tony’s dream was readily shared by Irene Tomaszewski, who had set up The Canadian Foundation for Polish Studies in Montreal in order to enrich the academic programs of McGill and Concordia universities with lectures, films and conferences about Poland. Long on vision, short on money Tony and Irene set out to create a Polish Studies symposium unlike anything seen before.
In 2004, with the generous support of Polonia – particularly the Polish communities of Edmonton and Calgary – who rose to the task of matching the money to the vision, the first PitR took place in the beautiful Canadian Rockies.
Please click HERE for a letter from founder Tony Muszynski, where you can find out more about the program’s roots and its many supporters.
Tony chose the friendly town of Canmore which is completely surrounded by majestic mountains, provides an occasional encounter with a bear, and is close to lakes, canyons, waterfalls and sulphur springs, all of them essential accessories to the stimulating discussions about Polish history, culture, and that most elusive subject, identity. The setting called for equally impressive speakers so the headliners were: Norman Davies, Tamara Trojanowska, and Bill Johnston, all of whom were called back for encores. Historian Anna Cienciala came from the US, film director Krzysztof Zanussi came from Poland, Jagna Wright and Aneta Naszynska came from the UK to present their documentary about Soviet deportations of Poles during WWII, the first film on this subject. This panel of speakers set the standard for the distinguished speakers who followed.
The siren call from the Rocky Mountains was heard far and wide bringing over 100 enthusiastic young people from cities including Chicago, LA, NY, Texas and Florida in the US; from Halifax to Vancouver in Canada; from Poland, the UK and Germany, and even from South Africa. Half Polish, all Polish and some not even Polish at all, the unifying thing was an interest in Polish history and culture, and the relationship of the Polish diaspora with Poland.
It was a rigorous program but many of the conversations took place around a campfire, wandering around Johnson Canyon, hiking or gazing out from atop Sulphur Mountain. Much was learned, bonds were forged.
PitR’s intention was to offer the participants an understanding of their Polish heritage that would make it easy to incorporate it into the mainstream of the Canadian and American lives. We made no other demands. But we certainly reaped rewards. The PitR network of friends is huge and dynamic. They are successful professionals in many fields: medicine, journalism, education, film, teaching, politics, business, technology, science, community work. And they are reaching out to new generations following them. This new cycle of Poland in the Rockies, launched entirely by alumni, is the proud legacy of the original.
The 2014 edition is taking place at Banff Park Lodge in Banff, Alberta, from July 24 to August 3.