April 16, 2019
A grimy day outside, we found ourselves grateful once again to be indoors. After places our jackets on some chairs, we made eye-contact with a pool playing gentleman sporting a light-hearted bucket hat. He stroked his white beard as he accepted our offer to have a conversation- with the condition that we would watch his pool game.
We’re a couple of university students.
You are? In what, drama? Literature? Sciences?
Sciences. Both of us we’re doing Immunology and Infections. Yesmine graduated, I’m almost graduated. Learning about disease, and the body, how it works, how it doesn’t work. You seem very well-read and very well-spoken- did you study literature?
Well, I ended up spending some time at UofA but I didn’t finish. It was a short stay due to circumstances... (rubs fingers together). Abrupt changes in the family too, I had to quit. But, the thing is I got the concept of a good reading list, how to follow a bibliography to get to expand on subjects.
So what did you study?
So I went to UofA and I got a job with a big construction company as a civil engineering technologist.
So was it in engineering that you spent your years at the UofA?
No. But that was something that I worked myself into on my own. Meaning in lieu of taking advantage of some of the possibilities that had been in our education, I had a scholarship to attend the Banff School of Fine Arts then and I had art exhibits all over the city.
What kind of art?
Crayon, and the recent artist that’s quite famous that is Canadian that drew similar sorts of things, yeah. His name starts with a “K” he does interesting landscapes. He brings in people doing activities. My activities and my people were children, and they were at play, usually. Children on snow hills, you know. A lot of color.
What drew you to crayon? Was it just that it was there?
Yeah. I have no technique in any type of way and I’m glad I didn’t because, why? One of my good friends he became quite a famous artist actually. He started in Poland, he went to Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and then he stated in France in Paris with this guy named Holice. Anyways, he was a good buddy of mine we travelled together a little bit through Africa and Europe. But, he ended up dying a few years ago from brain cancer. You know? And I keep on saying it’s from sniffing too much fumes, paint fumes! It can happen! You expose yourself to a lot of harm!
How old was he when he passed?
He must have been about 60.
So, do you still draw?
Very rarely. Here and there I need to do a technical drawing but nothing more.
A technical drawing? What is that?
Yeah it’s a sort of schematic. My original entry into the civil engineering field was I did a few courses of drafting in high school and circumstances at that time weren’t allowing me to go on with education, I went working for at that time it was called Department of Highways but today it’s Alberta Transportation, right? And I joined a survey crew and I ended up surveying with this mobile crew just moving around all over the province and doing measurements. And that led me very quickly into a job with municipal affairs in their Planning Department and I get the Alberta Library of Maps surveys. All the surveys being done in the province needed a stamp from our office.
So what year was this?
This was 1971.
What was the vibe like back then?
For one thing, the Department of Highways was a beautiful place to visit because it was unusual in its set-up. The interior consisted of really long tables about waist high and overlaid with mylar, a paper type on which you draw with India ink. I have I think two or three tattoos, these pinpoints. That’s India ink embedded in the skin from cleaning my pen, you know?
Do you have any other tattoos?
Aha, no I don’t.
I was also going to ask about family actually. You came here to Canada when you were 12. Anybody else come with you?
Oh, yes. A whole gang of people. My parents were carrying the baggage and I was surrounded with children, you know? Hands full of children at the age of 12, I was taking care of them. Half-siblings. The German army took my dad out to work as a labourer on the Eastern Front and they brought him back a year later when they were returning and they just threw him over the fence like a sack of potatoes, you know and this was probably late ‘44 and in ‘49 he died.
Oh my. Did he get sick or was he…?
Uhhh, you know the conditions of his death are a little sketchy to me, you know? I went back to Poland looking for people who have known the location of my birth, the house, it should still be there. But, I didn’t find anybody in the vacinity that was old enough. There was an old lady but someone told me, “You can’t talk to her, she’s senile.”
So, a lot of information went by me and me missing it by one year I think. There was a guy who was coherent and well-spoken but he wasn’t there anymore.
To me, as an immigrant, those years: the 1950s in Poland were so dear to me, there was such reality that I carried me on everyday type of basis. It was constantly in my memory so going back, walking around the areas, like I spent 60 days just walking 12 km a day. It was a beautiful place to grow up.
Are there any memories that are so strong and clear that affect you? Because I know for me sometimes I go back to these memories in Croatia that are just so peaceful and so beautiful.
Absolutely, absolutely. I have a very strong memory of my very early years. Oh, very early. When I spoke to people walking around two years ago, I was asking whether they have seen any ghosts in their backyard. Because if they have, it was me, visiting them in my dreams, you know!
So then do you have family that is still here with you?
Oh, yes. Yes! I have that bunch that I brought from Poland- they’re quite successful people. We still speak, we have a fairly large extended family. My son is a big rock and roll star.
Oh! Who is he?
Yeah, he plays for a group called Cobra and the Lotus out of Calgary.
That name sounds familiar… did they play at Sled Island in Calgary?
I’m sure they play all over the world. They tour with Kiss, they opened for Metallica in Barcelona, Judas Priest in London. That’s the type of group.
And what’s your son’s name?
Jasio. J - A - S - I - O.
Is this him? (We show a picture of him from a google search on our phones).
Oh! A picture of him! Hahaha! With the hair and face he looks like a skinny boy! I got to give him a call!
When was the last time you spoke to him?
Actually uhh, halfway through March. Yeah he’s always out of town, you know? Here he phoned me the day of the Junos. They were participating in the Junos, they came in second in their group, to a group that was from Quebec that has been doing this heavy metal for thirty years, you know.
Wow! This is crazy! I am so blown away!
Yeah. But I have sisters that one did become a legitimate artist. She studied at UofA but she also studied in Warsaw School of Fine Arts. She came here and did a lot of ceramics. She did ceramic mosaics, walls, murals.
Are they still up?
I don’t know where her art is, publically. But she became a housewife and three children with a big yard.
I was that cab driver you know who was reluctant to pick up fares. Now, I am seeing that everyone here is quite approachable and a lot of people here need help.
And I think that’s why we wanted to do this because like you said as a cab driver you have these conceptions or understandings of people that aren’t necessarily even true.
The food has improved here too. There is a lot of people that have nothing but at the same time there is a lot of people that I could discern are at a later time in their life, some have their own houses maybe and some have maybe a few of their own houses, right? But they still come here for the community. They were resistors of a lot of crap that went on in society, they get punished for stuff and what they thought about the current administration.
What kind of stuff?
Well, you would not imagine what it was like here in Edmonton in the ‘60s, say. Early ‘60s, early ‘70s, you know. When the drug culture began to develop. People were slapped hard for participating in that culture, you know. It’s not being discussed how we all got here, that today everyone is quite colorfully dressed. When I came here to Alberta in 1960, it was a fairly black and white type of community, you know, with a trench coat and rubber boots- no color! That’s the way the culture was. They were unloading warehouses of wear that wasn’t being sold in New York or anywhere else in the warmer climates, you know. They sent it to double the price up North, that’s the way it is today with groceries say in the NWTs. Those people are, they’re life is so much harder than ours. Limited opportunity to make something more or to even leave and abandon is so hard. So anyways, a lot of people resisted a lot of crap that came along in their lifetime.
And then, of course, there would be negative consequences for resistance.
Absolutely, absolutely. So when I hear slogans like this morning someone said some member in the election campaign was using a slogan like, “Strong and Free”, that applies to all of us. All of us are attached to that. The strength of it is not always necessary to bring it upfront, you know? As the tendency of nationalists spirits tends to bring on.
Did you vote?
If I was to vote, I would have to drive to Ashmont because that was my address for the last one year. I could have during the advanced polls as a matter of fact one of my buddies I had to return the keys to him, he’s a past MLA. He ran an advanced polls in Castledowns and in fact the mother of my children lived there with my children. They used to live under these powerlines and I said no, no, no, these power lines aren’t healthy. So the kids ended up having grown up about a block and a half away from West Edmonton Mall. And probably because of an establishment like Reds, my son probably got his influence for rock and roll. Actually, that musician quit thirty years of geophysics at UofA to do this music gig.
Really! That happens a lot. I know a lot of people especially in metal and punk who have done PhD’s or have done something in academia and they do metal.
So then what does your everyday look like?
My every day? I’m a little disconnected. I try to connect here and there, volunteering at the Polish Youth Club. It’s called Circle of Friends here in Edmonton. I was taking care of a lodge, a summer lodge for camp, for children. And we were building a new building so I ended up spending a year just hanging out there cleaning caterpillars.
Where is this lodge? Is it kind of outside Edmonton?
Yes. It’s in between Saddle Lake and Whitefish. Towards Bonneyville. Other than that, I have spent the last nine years on wheels. Moving without a permanent address.
So just like in a van, on the road. So in those nine years in Canada, mostly?
In the province, mostly! I have a property North of the city. I have a bunch of junk there and I move around. I fish! I tour more than I fish. I’m a bit compulsive-like when I have the urge to go somewhere and take a look- I’m driving, I’m driving.
So, you have your van out front?
How long are you staying here for?
I’m building an entrance road at my place. I went there last night and I couldn’t gain access because over the 36 hours that I spent in Edmonton here since Sunday afternoon till last night it was really dry here. Out there, it was dry for weeks, it was really dusty. But when I got there last night, it was all muddy I couldn’t get to it. So, the night before they had a dump of snow that melted during the day when traffic was using those roads, it turned into sludge soup, you know. So there I was delivering some items to my construction so I had to manually carry it all.
How long have you been doing that construction?
I am devoted to having some progress there this year ‘cause I have been the owner of that property for 27 years and I’m keeping it for my children. Paying taxes and now I’m building some good entrances into it so I can come in with a heavier vehicle and one or two of those sea cans for storage. But I have beavers! That’s the attraction of my property.
Do you have like a little lake?
I do have ponds, yeah. So I have geese nesting, a beaver house, I have ducks, there are frogs that are going nuts right now.
That seems like a little oasis! And so do you have a little house on there or?
I have a trailer. Trailer and plus, hahaha. I call it the haystack that hides the golden needle.
What’s the golden needle?
Ha haaa! That’s secret.
And you were mentioning you’re keeping it for your children, Jasio? Do you have some other children as well?
Yes, I do. Jasio has three sisters. One of them is my child, I think… or I was led to believe. Her name is Basia, that’s a derivative of Barbara. The second one her name is Maja.
What are your experiences with OFSS?
When I began my life on wheels, this seemed like a nice spot to be. I needed some medical attention that I approached McCauley Clinic and I met an old friend from high school that comes here for I don’t know how long already. He introduced me to this space and you know.
I spent some time in the taxi business. I, personally, and others, avoided picking up fares at this place because of possible problems, waste of time, and numerous conditions that when you’re working for a living you can’t afford it. At that time, I was stating even that we should be paid by social services, not by the meter, you know. Because that’s when you end up doing, helping the public.
Has your opinion of this place changed over the years?
I haven’t fully minded anything. Many people need more help than I do. To me, it’s one of my first stops when I come into the city.
Well, just the faces I know.
It’s a bit of a community, I guess, hey?
Yeah, yeah. Speaking of the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral you see, at that time in 1972 I was in Marseille. Where my buddy the artist, we sat down. We drew some roof tops. And one image that I really remember forever I think, we were pushing off the port of Marseille to Tunisia and we were traveling with a group of Tunisians, actually. Above the port, there is a very tall hill with a golden figure and the sun was coming off of that but, there was a clothesline and the clothing from that clothesline I saw this shirt, hanging there. And the sleeve was waving goodbye, hahaha!
Oh, that warms my heart. That seems like a good place to end our interview. That was lovely.