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Toronto Poles mourn crash victims

PM designates Thursday Canada's day of mourning for Polish president, officials

Last Updated: Monday, April 12, 2010 | 8:58 PM ET

Kristina Buchzynska, right, and Halina Hyla tend to a shrine to victims of the plane crash, including Polish President Lech Kaczynski, outside the Polish Consulate in Toronto on Sunday.Kristina Buchzynska, right, and Halina Hyla tend to a shrine to victims of the plane crash, including Polish President Lech Kaczynski, outside the Polish Consulate in Toronto on Sunday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The cards and flowers continued to pile up Monday as Toronto's Polish community mourned the loss of Poland's president and dozens of its top officials in a weekend plane crash.

At the south end of Roncesvalles Avenue, the heart of the city's Polish community, a steady stream of mourners stopped by a monument overlooking Lake Ontario that commemorates the Katyn massacre, one of the most tragic events in Polish history.

It was the 1940 slaughter of an estimated 22,000 Poles by Russian forces that Polish officials were on their way to mark when their plane went down in heavy fog near the city of Smolensk, not far from the forests where the victims of the Katyn massacre were buried in mass graves.

The plane crash in western Russia on Saturday killed 96 people, including Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, Maria, and many of Poland's top generals, members of parliament and government officials. They had been on their way to a joint Russian-Polish ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn tragedy.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, though a preliminary investigation has ruled out mechanical failure.

There are about 300,000 people of Polish descent in Toronto and an estimated one million with Polish heritage across Canada.

Maria Kaczynski came to Toronto's Katyn memorial during an official visit last year.

"She was a very nice lady," Polish consul general Marek Ciesielczuk told Steven D'Souza of CBC News. "And for us, it's hard to believe that she is no longer with us. It's a national tragedy, so there are no words to describe what we feel right now."

Hundreds of people have visited the Polish consulate to sign a book of condolence.

Marek Goldyn, a Toronto-based Polish journalist, hopes last weekend's tragedy will inspire people to understand the importance of the Katyn massacre in Polish history.

"We hope now more people could learn about this tragedy that happened 70 years ago," said Goldyn.

Canada has declared Thursday a national day of mourning for victims of the crash.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk by phone Monday and offered his condolences.

Harper will mark the day by attending a memorial mass at St. Maximilian Kolbe Roman Catholic church in Mississauga, Ont., while other commemorative activities will be held in Parliament.

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