(Leonard's story was originally published on the Canadian Polish Historical Society of Edmonton, Alberta website
and is repeated here with their permission.
Leonard Brzezinski was born on November 1, 1912 in Sulejow, Poland to Franciszek and Marianna Brzezinski. Not much is known about Mr. Brzezinski’s early life in Poland or how he left his country; however, we do know that on February 10, 1942 he joined the Polish Forces abroad under the command of Wladyslaw Anders. (Note from Polish Exiles Admin: The date of joining the Polish Forces clearly indicates that he had been taken to Siberia by the Russians and released on ‘amnesty’). During World War II, he served as Private in the Polish 2nd Corps, Signals. He also took part in the war campaign in Italy, including the Battle of Monte Casino.
Mr. Brzezinski took part in the Italian Campaign and ultimately was demobilized from the Polish Army on October 13, 1946. He received three decorations for his service, namely the War Medal 1939-1945 for being involved in battles during the World War II, the Monte Casino Cross, and the Star of Italy.
As a 34 year old, Mr. Brzezinski decided to emigrate from Italy to Canada. He left Italy on a ship named “Sea Robin” and arrived in Halifax on November 12, 1946. During his first years in Canada, he worked very hard on a farm, as part of his two-year commitment to the Canadian government. On October 23, 1948, he received his landed immigrant status, which gave him permanent residency in Canada.
In 1950, Mr. Brzezinski moved to the western part of Canada, namely Rosedale, Alberta and worked in the coal mining industry for Rosedale Collieries. In 1955, he relocated to Wetaskiwin and worked for the C.P.R. company. While living in Wetaskiwin, he purchased 160 acres of land close to the city, of which only 7 acres had agricultural value. Mr. Brzezinski worked tirelessly to convert the remaining acres into agricultural land. He proved to be an excellent farmer who worked very hard on his land and at the same time raised over 60 cattle.
During his life, he was a very modest man. In 1972, his total yearly income from the farm was $4,054 and expenses were $2,235, which left him with $1,819 for food and clothing. Mr. Brzezinski lived without electricity, telephone and gas until the early part of 1970’s.
In the mid 1970’s, he decided to move away from the farm and move back to Wetaskiwin. While living in Wetaskiwin, his health deteriorated, resulting in Mr. Brzezinski being admitted to the Wetaskiwin Hospital several times. When he was discharged from the hospital, during his last admission in 1977, Mr. Brzezinski moved to the Peace Hills Home in Wetaskiwin. In August if 1978, he was transferred to the Veteran’s Home in Edmonton and then to the Royal Alexandra Hospital, where he passed away on June 15, 1979.
Mr. Brzezinski’s will, which was dated April 1, 1978, stated: ”I give, devise, and bequeath all my property of every nature and kind and whatsoever situated, to the Wetaskiwin General Hospital in return for the kind care I received during many stays with them.”
In the words of his next door neighbor, Ben Falt, “He could not have had a better neighbor. He always had a friendly wave, was the best gardener in the area, and always kept an eye on things for his neighbors.”
Courtyard to honor Leonard Brzezinski
Mr. Brzezinski requested that his estate be awarded to the Wetaskiwin Hospital District because of the excellent treatment he received while in their care. The patients of the auxiliary hospital and the acute care division in Wetaskiwin will forever remember the generosity of Leonard Brzezinski. By using his donation of $160,000, the Wetaskiwin Hospital District was able to build a courtyard, 336 square meters in size, connecting the two hospital facilities. Moreover, a bronze statue of Leonard Brzezinski was placed in the courtyard to honor his generosity.
Overlooking the courtyard is the long-term care dining area. The courtyard serves several purposes. It is a place for people to gather and enjoy a beautiful oasis. It is a place for long-time residents to dine and enjoy the magnificent views or perhaps take a quiet stroll with visitors. Each season is represented in the courtyard by using barbecues and enjoying a beautiful garden or by creating ice sculptures. Access to the courtyard can be gained at both the north and south ends of the facility.
Who is Leonard Brzezinski and why did he request his estate be awarded to the hospital? He was simply a terrific, honest man. A streak of illness in the mid-1970s had Leonard in and out of the hospital. He was treated very well at the Wetaskiwin Hospital, which is the reason why he donated his estate to the hospital. He never married and never mentioned any family in Poland. He thought Poland was a beautiful place, but for some reason was scared to return.
Leonard Brzezinski, 1912-1979
The hospital courtyard that was built
with the funds that Leonard left in his will.
A bust of Leonard and an explanatory plaque can be found in the hospital lobby.
The plaque shows how history can be distorted when people are not familiar with the actual events.
The plaque actually suggests that Leonard was a prisoner of the British Forces, rather than a prisoner of the Russians who participated in WW2 as a member of the Polish Forces under British command !