Residents decry removal of the word ‘Polish’ from new ‘Roncesvalles Festival’

Some residents and longtime attendees of the Roncesvalles Polish Festival are petitioning the local BIA to reconsider a recent name change, which saw “Polish” dropped from the event’s name.

The BIA says the name change is part of an effort to combine two separate festivals and the event will still include many of the Polish staples people know and love — but others say it dilutes a key component of its history.

“It really affects the Polish community’s heart,” said Lucian Ezman, who told CBC Toronto he’s been going to the festival since its beginning.

The name change was first announced in late June, with organizers telling residents in a Facebook post the event was being rebranded as “Roncesvalles Festival,” and it would take place on Sept. 17 and 18.

The BIA says the festival is entering its 15th year. (Submitted by Marianna Osko)

Adam Langley, the vice chair of the Roncesvalles Village BIA, said in an interview that the COVID-19 pandemic left the organization with a lot of time to consider how the west-end neighborhood’s two festivals — which have traditionally been held in June and September —would return.

“So, we made the decision to combine the two festivals into one event, with the hope of reducing the potential risk and the amount of money that the local businesses would have to put forward to ensure the events would be successful,” Langley said.

In its Facebook post, the organization said though the word Polish wasn’t being included in the name this year, the festival would still “include fan favourites, like polka and pierogi, in conjunction with a fresh focus to celebrate a broader range of local artists, musicians and, of course, food.”

Some residents haven’t reacted favorably to the switch.

Resident Mike Ostrowski told CBC News he has been living in the neighborhood for the last dozen years, and has been going to the former Polish festival even longer than that.

He created a website and online petition to push back against the name change, which has since amassed just under 3,000 signatures.

“I think that’s what makes Toronto unique as a city in North America… that we can be truly multicultural,” he said. “And when you see an element of that disappear, people are upset about it.”

An online petition asking organizers to reinstate the word ‘Polish’ in the name of the festival has amassed thousands of signatures. (Submitted by Marianna Osko)

The change also grabbed the attention of Poland’s consul general in Toronto, Magdalena Pszczółkowska, who wrote to the chair of the BIA this week and asked it to reconsider.

“I am convinced that removing the word ‘Polish’ from the official name of the festival will have irreversible consequences in relation to the nature of the event, which may also reduce its popularity,” Pszczółkowska wrote, along with a request to restore the original yam.

Andrzej Osko has also been coming to the festival for years, and told CBC News that it’s a destination for people because of its celebration of all things Polish.

“I feel like that will be taken away,” he said.

“It showcases our beautiful culture,” added his sister, Teresa.

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