A Brief History of the Ottawa Welsh Society

Welsh men and women have been coming to the Ottawa area for hundreds of years. Along with the early fur traders, an explorer named David ap Thomas left his mark. His named was changed to Thompson, and a river was named for him. Around the time of the American Revolution, Loyalists came north to Canada. One of the first to give birth in Canada was a Welsh lady named Mary Andrew.

Around the end of the 1800’s there was a wave of immigration from Wales as coal mines closed. Some of the men went to work in the mines of Northern Ontario. Others found work in lumbering. Others had trades in stone-masonry and woodcarving and helped build Canada’s Parliament Buildings. Their mark has been left in the decorative leeks, daffodils and dragons on these buildings. One Welsh lumber baron built a beautiful house at 24 Sussex Drive, overlooking the Ottawa River. He named it “Gorffwysfa'” or “Place of Peace.” Upon his death, it was donated to the people of Canada. It is now the official residence of the Prime Minister.

We know there was a St. David’s Society in Ottawa in the decades following Confederation but it met only on St. David’s Day. One memorable event was when the 1917 dinner at the Russell Hotel was shaken up by an earthquake. In the early 1900’s the Society started an Eisteddfod, with competition open to all comers. It included choirs and soloists from Montreal, Utica, New York and everywhere in between. Eventually the Eisteddfod grew too large for the Society to handle and the Kiwanians stepped in. Today it is known as the Kiwanis Music Festival, and among its annual awards is a trophy and prize from the Ottawa Welsh Society. We know there was a Male Voice Choir in Ottawa in the 1930’s but we have very few records of its history.

In the years leading up to the Second War, the Society seems to have died out. But after the War, it was reborn as the Ottawa Welsh Society. It would meet only once a year until the 1960’s, but then there arrived a new wave of young people. Many friendships were made on the rugby field, and many of the Welsh newcomers were attracted to the Society. They quickly became involved and expanded the Society’s functions to include family and children’s events. Soon there would be an annual picnic, car rally, Christmas party, Bar-b-q and Barn Dance and Daffodil Teas. Over the years there have also been Wine and Cheese Parties, Pub Nights, Faggots and Peas Dinners, a play reading (Under Milkwood). A feature of the Ottawa Welsh event calendar is the St. David’s Day Dinner which is followed by a Gymanfa Ganu or church service.

In 1968 several members of the Society made an effort to start a Male Voice Choir, but lacking sufficient male singers, decided to establish a mixed choir instead. It remains a very successful and active organization in Ottawa. The Society has also provided Welsh language and folk dancing training.

Hosting the Year 2000 Welsh National was a proud moment for the Ottawa Welsh Society. We also had this great honour in 1977 when the co-chairs were Don Mills and Talfryn Griffiths.

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