As a typical child of immigrants, I was suspended between my Polish and Canadian identities for a while. I did not feel good about that, as I didn’t not want to stand out in crowd. But now?
My dear parents took great care of ensuring that I grew up surrounded by Polish culture. As a child I considered myself a Pole, and at primary school on Vancouver Island I had no problem with maintaining my identity. The children there were of many different nationalities and religions. The high school in Seattle that I attended was the complete opposite. It was dominated by white, well off American girls. I tried really hard not to stand out from them, and thought that it would be a great achievement to become one of them. I wanted to be Cris Chet, not Krystyna Czetwertyńska which was unpronounceable for Americans. Later on I learnt that my high school friends remembered me as a Polish princess.
My parents were closely connected with Poland and spent their best years in the country. They got married in 1933. In a large Kopina estate, surrounded by a vast park, they built Larch Manor House. However, their peaceful life was brutally disrupted by the Second World War. Father belonged to a regiment of lancers and took part in the September Campaign of 1939. Later on he was taken captive. My mother moved to Slovakia. She and my brother Jerzy spent the whole occupation period there, on my grandmother’s estate. As soon as the war ended my father was released from the prisoner of war camp in which he had been held. He went to Kraków and, after a five-year long separation, was reunited with my mother who had traversed the Tatra Mountains on foot in order to cross the Slovak border. Shortly after that, father joined General Anders’ Army that was stationed in Italy. Mother and Jerzy followed him there soon and mother started working for the Red Cross. I was born in Great Britain in 1947, in the Scottish city of Edinburgh.
In 1949, during a terrible storm, we crossed the Atlantic. After arriving in Halifax, we boarded a train and travelled across Canada to reach British Columbia. My father found employment on a chicken farm and later in a sawmill. Mother, while still in Warsaw, attended a sewing course. In Vancouver she started to sew dresses for wealthy ladies, and father, thanks to his friendship with a Polish real estate agent – Mr Bułhak, quickly met a lot of influential people. One of those men, an owner of a beautiful resort on the Vancouver Island, offered my father the position of a main administrator. With the money from selling a property in Cannes, that belonged to our family even before the First World War, father bought an estate on Vancouver Island and called it Kopina II. There he built a luxurious resort, situated on a three-hundred-acre plot of land just next to the ocean. After my father’s death Kopina II was put up for sale, but before we left it for good I held my wedding there.
Art has always been an important aspect of my family’s life. My parents, who played the piano very well, passed their love for music on to us. I cannot imagine life without music! I’m a member of the Vancouver Chopin Society. Each year, as a volunteer, I help with Jazz Festival preparations. I also sing in a church choir. I do my best to support any kind of artistic activity, as I still remember how my father used to sculpt in wood. There have always been art lovers and artists on my mother’s as well as my father’s side of the family. My maternal grandmother’s brother, August Zamoysky, was a famous sculptor, and father’s wood sculptures still decorate my home.
So who do I consider myself now? A Pole? A Canadian? A Princess? I am just Krystyna Czetwertyńska and I am happy with that.