Profiling: John Terech

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

This is a departure from the usual ‘Profiling’ Series on our blog.  Our past profiles have been for people like James O. Guy, Dr. McKay, Frederick Fowke, and George McLaughlin – typically well known and certainly well-researched and well-written about individuals. With plans and preparations ongoing for our latest feature exhibit, Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa, it made me reflect on my own Polish heritage and roots in our community, so this profile is of someone whose name will likely never be stumbled upon in history books, my great-grandfather, John (Jan) Terech.

John was born in 1885 in Mała Wieś, Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, Poland, one of five known children born to Vincenty (Wincenty) Terech and Ewa Karwacki (Karwacka). His brother Joseph (Jozef) (1891-1963) resided in Canada for a number of years before ultimately settling in the United States.  One sister, Antonia (1894-1945), married a man named John Novak.  She is laid to rest in St. Catharines, ON.  Sisters Julianna (born 1881), and Sofia (married name Porębska) apparently remained in Poland.

The exact year he arrived in Canada is unknown, but it was likely between 1906 and 1910, settling in Toronto where he met Stella (Stanislava) Urban; they were married on the 23rd of November, 1912 at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Toronto. This church is the oldest Polish parish in Toronto.  While living in Toronto, the family grew but suffered loss. Twins Mary and Josepha were born in 1913, but Josepha died a short two days after her birth; Cecylia was born in March 1915 but died that November; both sisters are buried in Toronto’s Mount Hope Catholic Cemetery. Daughters Anne, Jean, Charlotte (Lottie), and Frances were born in 1916, 1919, 1921, and 1923, respectively, with the family living at 418 Prospect Street, Oshawa, by 1921. By the time their last child, Edward, was born in 1926, John was so pleased that, as family stories go, he was handing out drinks to passers by of 116 Olive Avenue, where the family lived since 1924, because he was overjoyed by the birth of a son. Family stories also state that he was so pleased that he registered the name not as Edward, as my grandfather and his mother believed, but as Stanislaus; Grandpa had his name legally changed to Edward years later.

John, Stella, and family, c. 1921

Stories from my Grandpa and great-aunts were of many happy years living in the Olive Avenue rowhouses, a neighbourhood of Oshawa which, at that time, was heavily settled by eastern European immigrants. The rowhouses were hot in the summer, and some nights were spent by the children sleeping across the road in Cowan Park for relief from the heat. My great-grandparent’s home on Olive was, at that time, a double unit. The size of the home, although still modest, would have been well used by the six children, a few of whom would live in the family home after getting married with their new spouses. In 1947, John, Stella, and Eddie moved to 299 Verdun Road, a short 10-minute walk from the rowhouses.

John worked for Malleable and Fittings, two industries where many eastern European immigrants found employment. Work in these plants were hard and dirty, and John suffered many negative health effects from working in these industries. He reportedly worked until he retired in 1948, and my grandfather stopped his formal education at a young age, instead seeking work to help support the family. Grandpa spent most of his working life at Duplate (later known as PPG), which is where he met my grandmother, Mary, and my step-grandmother, Doreen.

John and Stella received their Certificates of Naturalization in 1929. A cousin shared with me that John (“dziadek – proper Polish but we called him jaja the Western version”) never learned English, although another cousin believed that he did understand the language but preferred conversing in Polish. Stella, “on the other hand self taught herself [English]; she would study the school books that [Lottie] and others brought home.”  John and Stella were active within the local Polish community. Both were involved in Branch 21 of the Polish Alliance of Canada and were supportive of the establishment of St. Hedwig’s parish.

Their Catholic faith was important to them. Before the establishment of St. Hedwig’s and Holy Cross, the family would venture from Olive Avenue to St. Gregory The Great at Simcoe and (today) Adelaide to attend services. Information from St. Hedwig’s notes that by 1928, the Polish community were starting discussions of establishing a Polish Catholic church, and in November 1928, a weekly mass at St. Gregory’s began being held for the Polish community.

John and Stella celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1962 with a banquet and dance in St. Hedwig’s parish hall. As reported in the Oshawa Times, there was a nuptial mass with vow renewal, greetings presented, toasts, dancing, feasting, and, of course, the singing of ‘Sto Lat, Sto Lat.’

The Oshawa Times, Thursday, November 29, 1962

John passed away in 1964 and Stella died in 1969. Both are laid to rest at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Whitby.

Oshawa was often where Displaced Persons settled after World War II – the availability of industries was a draw, but the establishment of communities, churches, and groups like the Polish Alliance increased the appeal of our City. It would be a big, daunting undertaking to leave home and move to a new country, but settling somewhere amongst others who spoke your languages, knew your traditions, and cooked the same food, certainly would have helped with this big life transition. The contributions of those who arrived at the turn of the century and in the following decades helped pave the way for the waves of immigrants who arrived in the late 1940s and onwards.

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