I was born January 9th, 1935 in Zyrardow, Poland. My father was a butcher and my mother worked alongside doing sales in the butcher shop. My father stayed in Poland to work until the beginning of the Second World War when the Polish army recruited him as a German translator.
We lived in Poland until 1944, when my grandparents and mother took my brother and myself to Vienna, Austria. There we had an aunt who sponsored us along with two other families. For the first year in Austria, we all lived in a one-bedroom apartment. Unfortunately, my grandparents soon decided to move back to their farm in Poland and were imprisoned as they were thought to be German collaborators.
My mother made the decision to stay with my brother and me in Austria. At the age of 14, I started an apprenticeship in the sheet metal trade. Europe was still recovering from a war and things were uneasy so I made the decision to move to North America. A ship building company from Hamburg was hiring and doing business between Canada and Germany and I looked at this job as a free ticket to get to Canada. I accepted a position, boarded a boat and landed in Quebec City in 1954. I knew of a few relatives in Edmonton and so with 20 dollars to my name I boarded a train and made my way there.
When I arrived in Edmonton a person who hired immigrants to work as a window and door installers approached me. I was eager to earn money to support myself so I immediately took the job. My English was limited so I had very few options for employment until one of my relatives introduced me to a person who was hiring for positions up North. He told me this was a great opportunity to learn English while earning a living. I made the decision to go work on the construction of the Distant Early Warning system in the Canadian Artic, where I spent two years, and focused on learning English in my spare time.
In 1957, I returned to Edmonton and worked for various steel fabricator companies in Alberta and it is here where my involvement in the Canadian labour movement began. I volunteered my time and worked as an in-plant organizer for the United Steelworkers of America. I also volunteered in setting up the United Steelworkers consumers’ cooperative in Edmonton for members to purchase goods at the reduced price. During this time, I married my first wife and brought her to Canada to live with me. Soon after, we welcomed our daughter Sandra into the world. Unfortunately, there were many stresses during this period and Marianne decided to return to her parents in Vienna.
From 1960 until 1969, I took position as a Union Organizer and representative for the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) for Northern and North West Ontario, during this time I negotiated 24 collective agreements and the creation of 6 voluntary organizing committees, which were successful in organizing thousands of workers into unions. I volunteered my time and assisted in setting up Community Clinics that assisted people on the margins of society deal with the bureaucracy and assisted them with Unemployment Insurance and Workers Compensation.
In Sault Ste. Marie, I assisted in the successful establishment of the Community Health Centre, which today serves over 80,000 people and is a model for community care. I was active in the campaigns of the Red Feather and the Community Chest (now called the United Way).
In 1964, I met my second wife Mary, the love of my life. We later married and our daughters, Sandra and Susan eventually welcomed a brother (Daniel) and a sister (Jennifer) into our family.
In 1970, I was hired as an organizer for the Canadian Labour Congress. In 1971, I was the Founding member of National Co-op Housing Foundation, which educated and supported the development of co-op housing across Canada. I was involved with meeting and helping individuals form housing co-ops throughout the country. Over the next 25 years, I had the opportunity to continue to work within the labour movement in many parts of Canada, including British Columbia and Ontario. My work as Regional Director of Education, President of the BC Federation of Labour and as special advisor on labour-market issues for Employment and Immigration and Labour Canada gave me immense satisfaction as these roles gave me the chance to make a difference in lives of so many Canadians. I have tried to make it my life’s work to improving the quality of life for people.
Part of this work also included an Anti-poverty project to raise awareness and strategies to reduce poverty in Canada. In 1995 My wife and I decided that we were going to retire and return to British Columbia to be closer to family. In retirement while still in Ontario I was one of the Founders and Board member of Seniors on Guard for Medicare, in which retired leaders of non-governmental organizations committed to protect and enhance universal Medicare. I also founded the Ottawa-Carlton Health Coalition.
In 1996 we returned to British Columbia and I volunteered my efforts as the President of Seniors on Guard for Medicare in BC. In 1998 I expanded my volunteer work to include being the, President, executive board member, and member of the Council of Senior Citizens Organization of British Columbia(COSCO/BC), an advocacy, lobby and education organization for seniors (composed of 100,000 members). I also was an active member of the steering committee for the Canadian Council on Learning, subcommittee on mature adult health.
I have been privileged in my life to receive many awards for doing the work I love; like the Canadian Governor’s General, Queens Golden Jubilee Award for the work in community on behalf of the labour movement and the United Way, The Governor General of Canada, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award for contributions to Canada. Most recently, I was awarded the Order of Canada for my contribution to the labour movement and volunteer work with senior citizens. I truly hope that I have been able to help make a difference in this world and that the legacy of my life, will live on in my children, grandchildren and the many people that I have been honoured to work with and serve in my life.