When the Polish Kashubs began arriving in Canada in 1858, many of them settled in the Wilno area of Renfrew County. Along with them, they brought their own culture, consisting of Kashub language, music, folklore and a unique style of furniture with the Baroque influence. The Baroque style is evident in the arches and scroll work, simply carved fans and elaborate paint work.
Upon arriving, they lived a life of total subsistence off the land. From the pines that towered over them, they built their homes and furnished them with handmade chairs, benches, dish dressers, chests, cradles and beds. The majority of the furniture was made from pine, however, basswood and certain hardwoods like oak and ash were also used.
The most well known of these carpenter-furniture makers was John Koslowski. Although much of the so-called Wilno furniture has been attributed to him, very little is known about the man himself. It is believed that he arrived in Canada in the late 1880’s and left the Wilno area in May of 1903 after his wife, Victoria, was killed a month earlier by a falling tree. After Victoria’s death, John lost heart for his trade and left the area.
John Borutski is the second of three well known cabinet makers that left his mark in the area. Like Koslowski, Borutski arrived in Canada in the late 1880’s. Borutski used hardwoods for his furniture and rather than painting his pieces, he used an early form of varnish to finish his pieces. Borutski was also known for his lathe work, therefore, creating a distinctive and unique style.
John Chippior was the third cabinet maker who was well known for his craftsmanship. Unlike Koslowski and Borutski, Chippior was born in Canada. It is believed that he apprenticed under Koslowski. Chippior is known for his vibrant and colourful pieces.