Most of the names of the communities located in central Alberta were acquired in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. Many of the names came from individuals who first opened up the country as explorers or missionaries or by early homesteaders who were asked to name a local railroad station or post office. This sometimes led to some confusion as the homesteader may have come from a non-English speaking homeland and those asking would, at times, make an error in writing the name down. This happened with the naming of Warburg and with Nisku.
Many believe that Nisku’s name comes from the Cree word for Goose. But, the Cree word is Niska. Close enough for people to think that is where Nisku got its name, but a CPR representative recording names for the area talked to one of the Polish homesteaders and that is when the recording of a name became interesting.
The homesteader the CPR representative spoke to was Stanislaw Sarnecki. Stanislaw grew up and farmed near Laszki, Poland in the Galicia District. During much of his early life Poland and its people were controlled in the east by Russia, in the west by Germany, and to the south by Austria. These countries used Poland’s resources leaving little for the people of Poland. By the 1890’s Poland would experience mass emigration of individuals trying to escape the widespread of poverty.
Stanislaw was well read and had heard of the opportunities to homestead in Canada’s west. He sold all his belongings and paid passage for his family for a two-week journey. In late March of 1897 Stanislaw, his wife Victoria and their four children and his sister would board a ship and set sail from Hamburg, Germany for Canada. They joined the over 4 million Polish immigrants that had decided the wilds of North America’s west had more opportunities for a better future than remaining in Poland.
The family landed in St. John, New Brunswick after a howling four-week voyage where the ship had to doge icebergs in very poor weather. Fifteen years later another ship would follow the same course and never make it to port. Many of the passengers spent much of their time suffering from sea sickness, but Stanislaw was able to weather the trip in fine condition and looked forward to the train trip that brought them to Calgary.
His enthusiasm and excitement carried them through the horse and Red River Cart trip to Strathcona. Here he laid claim for a homestead 3 miles west and 1 mile north of present day Nisku. From the moment that Stanislaw had decided to migrate to Canada he was optimistic about his future success. In letters that he wrote to family and friends back in Laszki he raved about the opportunities and the richness of the land.
A year later nearly 20 more Polish families joined the Sarneckis and established homesteads in the Nisku-Devon districts. His fellow Polish immigrants called Stanislaw the “Moses of Rabbit Hill” for leading them from the land of woe to the land of plenty.
One day a couple of CPR representatives approached Stanislaw. They had heard he was well respected by his neighbors and were told he was the first to settle the area. The railroad had run out of names given to them by Father Lacombe for naming their various stations and had begun a process of asking early settlers for their input. Most gave them names of places where they originally came from and if Stanislaw had understood their question he very well might have told them Laszki or Galicia.
But, for Stanislaw English was still a work in progress and he thought they wanted him to describe the land so he told them it was “nisko tu”, Polish for flat land. What the CPR representative heard was Nisku and thus it was recorded for all time.
Stanislaw and his wife Victoria would add to their family six more boys and a girl and make a number of contributions in the development of Nisku. Stanislaw’s love for knowledge and his faith in man saw him encourage the development and the building of the first church and school in the area.