“Perhaps, I should start with my love affair with Canada.”
Andrzej established Janina’s in 1986 in the basement of a historic building downtown. But the story – the pieces that allowed the company to form – began long ago. It began, as Andrzej aptly puts, as a “love affair with Canada.”
And that love affair started with stickers.
Born in communist Poland, Andrzej didn’t grow up around diamonds or gold. He grew up collecting North American memorabilia: stickers, pamphlets, sports swag. Basically, anything that contained information from the countries across the Atlantic.
Of course, the stickers were the most precious. They could be (and were) plastered on bedroom walls and – if your parents had one – across the exteriors of cars.
Getting these stickers was sometimes a challenge. It involved buying the mailing information to big businesses and then writing letters to those companies to hopefully receive pamphlets, fliers, and – most importantly – stickers.
When he was about 8 years old, he received information about three companies: Penzoil, Saragossa, and Air Canada. Intrigued by Air Canada, he sat down and wrote a letter:
“Hello. My name is Andrzej. I’m interested in your company. Could you please send me some stickers and some pamphlets because I would like to learn more about it.”
Since a single letter mailed across the Atlantic could cost up to 8 or 9 dollars, Andrzej funded this hopeful venture by collecting bottles. Andrzej also spoke to his father, who let Andrzej do extra chores for the money, even though he didn’t think a “big American company” would care about a little boy.
Andrzej sent the letter and waited. Months later, he came home to find a large envelope in his mailbox – one with red, white, and blue corners. It was an overseas package, stuffed with beautiful pamphlets, informational fliers, and – best of all – stickers. And so young Andrzej decorated his room with Air Canada stickers.
Canada, it seemed, as a whole country – or at least one of its nationally named companies – really cared about its people. At least, enough to spark the attention of a young boy.
At 17, Andrzej left his country, obtaining permission to watch an international violin competition in Switzerland. There, alongside a dear friend, he unearthed his old interest in Canada, determining that a country full of people who cared was where he could find home.
That remained the focus of his journey, as he headed into a refugee camp in Austria. As they travelled to the refugee camp, Andrzej and his friend began chatting with a group of beautiful girls. Unknowingly, one of them was the namesake for a future company: Janina.
Over the course of 14 months, Andrzej and Janina fell in love. More attentively than ever, Andrzej directed his focus on finding a stable home, a place full of people who cared.
In other words, he aimed straight for Canada.
Read the other parts of this story here:
- Part 2: Landing on Your Feet: The History of Janina's Part Two
- Part 3: Finding the Right Path – The History of Janina's Part Three
- Part 4: On Paper & In Practice – The History of Janina's Part Four
- Part 5: A Beautiful Name – The History of Janina's Part Five
- Part 6: Displays, Road Trips, & Newborns – The History of Janina's Part Six
- Part 7: The Question of Money – The History of Janina's Part Seven
- Part 8: Saving Fiercely & Working Proudly: The History of Janina's Part Eight
- Part 9: Flying & Falling: The History of Janina's Part Nine
- Part 10: Always Moving Forward: The History of Janina's Part Ten
This article is part of a ten-part series on the history of Janina’s.