‘Start of a journey’: CBRM partners with a city in Poland

Cape Breton Regional Municipality and a city in Poland are now partners.

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke and Mayor Roman Szelemej of Walbrzych were 5,000 kilometres apart as they signed documents at the same time on Friday morning.

A delegation in Poland and another in Whitney Pier performed the ceremony together by video link.

“This is a start of a relationship that moves us forward,” said Clarke. “It is important to celebrate the Polish heritage of our community. This is the start of a journey that we are very happy to be on.” 

Mayor Roman Szelemej of Walbrzych, Poland, shown by videolink. (Yvonne Leblanc-Smith/CBC)

Szelemej said he was very pleased to see so many young people in attendance. Grade 8 students from Whitney Pier Memorial Middle School and representatives from several schools in Walbrzych participated.

“Hoping they will continue with our partnership for years to come and they will convey messages of partnerships of good relationships of cultural and historical ties to the next generation, ” he said.

Historic Polish neighbourhood in Whitney Pier

Whitney Pier is home to a long-standing Polish community in a neighbourhood known as Kolonia. It was established in the early 20th century when thousands of immigrants arrived in the Sydney area to work in the steel plant and coal mines.

The only Polish church in Atlantic Canada is in Whitney Pier.

“Through cultural ties and that social aspect, there are economic opportunities.” said Clarke, who cited tourism and technology as areas where both cities could benefit.

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke and Whitney Pier delegation with the document affirming a twinning arrangement with Walbrzych, Poland.

Jo-Lanna Murray of Events Cape Breton told the assembled group in Walbrzych about the tourist sites in Cape Breton. Parks Canada representatives explained what the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the Fortress of Louisbourg had to offer.

For their part, the Polish delegation described their biggest tourist attraction and historical site, Ksiaz Castle, which was built in 1288 and has a Canadian connection.

One of the chefs at the castle was also a photographer. His century-old pictures of the castle are on display, courtesy of the chef’s descendents in Ontario, who arranged to have the photos returned to Poland.

Potential for collaboration

Aside from the potential tourism ties between the two cities, there is also opportunity for academic collaboration. 

Tom Urbaniak is a political science professor at Cape Breton University. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

“It is so much easier for an academic to contact an academic in the other city to propose joint work on best practices and revitalization.”  said Tom Urbaniak, a professor at Cape Breton University and chair of the partner city steering committee.  “It’s not another random community calling. It’s a partner city.”

Urbaniak said the partnership between the two communities makes sense.

“Both municipalities are post-industrial, both have a similar population size, both are doing creative work on neighbourhood revitalization, both have a coal mining heritage,” said Urbaniak.

Urbaniak said this meeting via video link will be the first of many.

He said a workshop is being organized for Cape Breton University in the spring to work on tangible projects, such as student exchanges and neighbour revitalization, which he said he hoped a Walbrzych delegation could attend.

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