arrowbookcheckclosecommentfacebookfavourite-origfavouritegooglehomeibapdfsearchsharespotlighttwitterwelsh-government

The Welsh in Canada - interviews by Glenys James

In the early 1970s, Glenys James, a London born Welsh speaker, was employed by the Canadian Government to conduct oral histories of Welsh people or people of Welsh descent living in Canada.

The Welsh have been emigrating to Canada from as far back as 1617, pushed in part by the perceived threat of the loss of the language and its culture and pulled by the promise of cheap farming land and even gold. One of the largest waves of migration of the Welsh happened at the turn of the 20th century when over 200 settlers in the Welsh colony in Patagonia headed North (via Liverpool) to seek better fortunes after years of floods had destroyed their newly established farmsteads. From Chubut to Canada, the conditions that welcomed these already world worn, and weary Welsh people added insult to injury. With temperatures as low as minus thirty, families had to spend their first winter in tents as no permanent buildings had been erected. Many had never even seen snow before.

Many of the stories are harrowing. These desperate people who had been so full of hope for their new lives were never given an easy road to follow. And yet, returning to Wales was never considered an option. Despite this, their love for the ‘old country,’ its language and music was cherished down generations.

It took a month to sail to Liverpool, and Mary Lewis describes how her 9-month-old sister learnt to walk whilst on board. Several mention children buried at sea, and others the lack of food resulting in high mortality amongst the old and young. The second wave began around a decade later. Often seen as troublemakers, following major disputes among Welsh miners and labourers, unionised workers were often “encouraged” to establish livelihoods elsewhere.

One of these highly advertised areas was Crow’s Nest Pass in Alberta, Canada. The new railway line that was being built through this part of the Canadian Rockies was also rich in coal and so advertised as presenting an easy transition to those emigrating from the Welsh valleys. One of the interviewees described her first impression of this immense landscape as ‘barbaric’, with snow covering the inside of houses as well as out, one can understand why. However, there are some happy gems hidden too. The interviews, conducted in the speakers’ homes offer a treasure trove of first-hand experiences of living in the ‘Wladfa’, and the harsh realities of their new lives in Canada.

Meredydd Rees recalls the animals of his childhood including the ostriches and armadillos of the pampas. ‘Nan’ Davies sings tunes learnt for eisteddfodau that would later be used to keep brown bears at bay, and Mrs T.T. Evans describes her ‘Mate’ cup, a traditional tea drank in Patagonia, as well as many folk songs passed down from generation to generation across hundreds of years and thousands of miles. It might be said that love for the language has travelled the best of all Wales’ exports.

There are 65 items in this collection

  • Use stars to collect & save items
  • 77
  • login to save
  • Use stars to collect & save items
  • 719
  • login to save
  • Use stars to collect & save items
  • 1,310
  • login to save
  • Use stars to collect & save items
  • 3,181
  • login to save
  • Use stars to collect & save items
  • 666
  • login to save
  • Use stars to collect & save items
  • 992
  • login to save

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to leave a comment