Cover photo for Czeslaw Smyka's Obituary
Czeslaw Smyka Profile Photo
1920 Czeslaw 2017

Czeslaw Smyka

May 9, 1920 — September 6, 2017

Czeslaw Smyka was born on the outskirts of Warsaw, Poland on Sunday, May 9, 1920. He was the first of three children. He had a younger brother Wladislaw (Wally) and a sister Maria. Their father, Felix Smyka, was a game warden. His mother Wanda took care of the home and their peaceful life. Tragically, peace was something that Chester was not to know again until very much later in his adult life. Before Chester's eighth birthday, Felix died following complications resulting from a forest accident. In 1939, German Panzer divisions rolled into Poland and World War II began. Chester and Wally decided to flee the county with a plan to join up with Polish forces in exile. But their journey was short-lived. Somewhere along the Polish/Czech border, Chester and Wally were captured by Russian troops and sent to Moscow where they were brought before a kangaroo court. They were found guilty of political subterfuge and sentenced to years of hard labour at a forced labour camp in the Siberian gulag. The next two years were punishing beyond imagination. Yet somehow, their will to survive was inextinguishable. Mercifully, the brothers were saved when Joseph Stalin made his pact with the Allies. As part of the deal, Polish political prisoners were freed from the Siberian camps. Not knowing whether his brother had survived, Chester threw in with a group of fellow Poles and began the harrowing trek south, by train, by foot, by whatever means they could find. Their destination was the Middle East, where they meant to hook-up with the British and the Polish armies that were mobilizing there. Somehow, armed with nothing but their own resourcefulness, the young men made their way across an entire continent, eventually to Iran where they found refuge in a Polish army camp. Chester enlisted to become a fighter pilot, placing him on track to be sent for training in Calcutta and Durban, South Africa before final deployment to England. While in training, Chester discovered that he had a heart murmur, which disqualified him from being a pilot. But he remained attached to the air force and sailed to Scotland where, after a grueling training program, he became a member of the British Army's Polish paratroop brigade. Chester made one wartime drop, from a low-flying Dakota bomber, and into a hail of German sniper fire over the Dutch town of Arnhem in September 1944. He made it through that dark encounter and the remainder of the war. His next assignment was as a member of the post-war occupying forces in Germany. It was there that he met the aristocratic Polish beauty Iwona (Yvonne), a former soldier in Poland's Home Army and another witness to the ravages war.They fell in love and on March 2, 1946 began their incredible 71-year journey of marriage and unshakable togetherness. Germany was where their first son Jacek (Jack) was born. Following the war, Polish soldiers were prevented from returning to their native soil because of the hostile Soviet regime that had taken control of Poland and that would choke the country for the next four decades. But that was the reality, and the displaced Poles grimly accepted it, choosing to restart their lives in expat communities across England and North and South America. Chester and Yvonne chose the industrial town of Bradford in the English midlands. With a family to support, he stepped into an upholstery workshop, picked up a hammer and began an apprenticeship that would turn into a vocation and a life-long obsession with quality and craft. After the arrival of their second son Marek (Mark), the Smykas faced a life decision - whether to remain in England, or to find a more welcoming home and the prospect of a brighter future of their children. So the Smyka family boarded the ocean liner SS Franconia and sailed across the Atlantic, eventually landing in Toronto. Chester found a job doing piece work in a west-end factory, getting paid for every piece of furniture he finished. Every morning he boarded the Queen Street streetcar from the one-room townhouse he bought from his soldier's pay on Coxwell Avenue and crossed the city to his bench at a factory on Dufferin Street. While the job provided for his family, it did nothing for Chester's soul. He was not the kind to take orders. Pride was everything. And so, with halting English and a rudimentary understanding of business, Chester struck out on his own and opened his one-man shop, Chester's Upholstery. The first location was an unheated garage in a back lane off Dupont Street. He started by reupholstering vinyl chairs. He struggled. He hustled. And through dogged determination began to expand his customer base. Chester's marketing plan amounted to one print run of a simple white business card that read "Chester's Upholstery." Within a few years, his reputation as an honest and highly skilled craftsman spread. Chester's business grew entirety by word of mouth. Soon he became the upholsterer of choice of Rosedale and Forest Hill matrons, high-end hotels and discerning antique dealers. Customers recognized that Chester was much more than an upholsterer. He was a man of character and substance. He was a principled, old-world craftsman who cared deeply over every single stitch, over the perfect alignment of pattern and piping, over the precise composition of feathering and every other detail ... on every single piece that left his shop. Chester was a proud soldier, a skilled craftsman, a caring father, a devoted husband, a gentleman, a toughie and a softie, a bridge player extraordinaire, a Polish patriot, an appreciative Canadian citizen, a life-long fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and a model and everlasting inspiration to all who had the privilege of knowing him. Chester was the beloved husband of Yvonne and the loving father of his children Jack (Peggy), Mark (Allison) and Monica (Cameron). He was the adored "Dziadek" to his grandchildren Melissa, Rebecca, Andrew, Robyn and Deanna. And he was an endless source of joy and pleasure to his great grandchildren Timothy, Nicholas, Andrew, Tilly, Pippa, Chloe, Finn and Oliver. A private family service is being held at graveside on Saturday, September 16 at Mickle Memorial Cemetery on Gravenhurst, ON.

Service Information

Saturday, September 16th, 2017, Mickle Memorial Cemetery


Service Extra Info A private family service will be held at Mickle Memorial Cemetery, Gravenhurst on Saturday, September 16, 201`7.

Interment Details

Mickle Memorial Cemetery


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