Happy July! We are indeed happy to celebrate yet another accomplished Polish-Nova Scotian (or rather Polish-Cape Bretoner) of the month - Dr. Tom Urbaniak.
Dr. Tom Urbaniak was born in Toronto to a family of Polish heritage and grew up in Mississauga surrounded by a large Polish community.
When he came to Cape Breton in 2004, he expected to stay a mere 8 months, in order to replace a professor on sabbatical at Cape Breton University. As the work term came to a close, he did not anticipate that he would be offered a permanent faculty position at CBU nor that Cape Breton would become his cherished home for now over a decade.
Presently, Tom is Chair of CBU's Department of Political Science and also teaches in the MBA program in Community Economic Development. He is Vice Chair of the CBU Senate and serves on the CBU President's Council on Multicultural Learning.
As a trilingual gifted public speaker, he is frequently called upon by the local media to offer political and policy analysis. He has authored four books and is the current Chair of the Board of Governors of Canada's National Trust; an organization that works with Canadians to protect historic places and regenerate communities.
Tom was founding chair of the Affordable Housing Renovation Partnership and helped to establish Habitat for Humanity's presence in Cape Breton. As a member of the Sydney Architectural Conservation Society, he proposed Nova Scotia's first local heritage conservation revolving fund.
Tom is also a member of the Canadian Polish Research Institute. In 2014, he was a member of the Canadian Election Observation Mission in Ukraine.
Through all of Tom's endeavours, it is evident that he is a very community minded individual. However, it is likely that the Polish community of Cape Breton is the one that he holds most dear. He noted recently, "I didn't have family in Cape Breton. The Polish community - the community of St. Mary's Polish Parish - became, in effect, my extended family. I felt welcomed. I was encouraged to use the Polish language and to learn about cultural traditions. I was even invited to join the Pogoria Polish Folk Ensemble - something I had never imagined doing!"
During his time in Cape Breton, Tom has quickly become a leader in the Polish community. He is the Chair of the Parish Council at St. Mary's Polish Church and the Recording Secretary of the St. Michael's Polish Benefit Society - one of the oldest continuous Polish organizations in Canada.
He remarked: "The resilience and perseverance of the Cape Breton Polish community over the generations are really amazing - I would go so far as to say that the Cape Breton Polonia is one of the great success stories of Polonia generally. The community has survived and even thrived in the face of a lot of adversity."
As a proud 'Polish Cape Bretoner', Tom now faces one of the biggest challenges of his life as he plays an integral role in the rebuilding of St. Mary's Polish Church, destroyed in a recent tragic fire.
When asked, from where, he gathers his initiative, he remarked: "One of the things that motivates me, I think, is a sense of duty and a sense of community. I see that in others. If you're entrusted with a duty, you don't abandon ship in the middle of a storm. You try to draw on your strengths and the qualities of others, you listen to people and acknowledge mistakes. You pray for the best, but never give up."