True to its traditions of song and poetry, in association with the Vancouver Welsh Society, the Welsh community will once again be presenting the Vancouver Men’s Welsh Choir performing “Sounds of Christmas.” The performance will include traditional carols and other holiday songs. This event is being held on Dec. 8 at the Surrey Arts Centre as part of Surrey Civic Theatres’ “Surrey Spectacular Series.”
While the Vancouver Welsh Society has strong ties to the men’s choir, they do more than just collaborate with the choir, having a long history on their own. The Society was established more than a century ago in 1907 and has since been promoting and encouraging those who are from or who have family from Wales, to celebrate and learn more about their Welsh culture and heritage.
Welsh history in Vancouver
The Society claims guardianship of the history of Welsh migration to British Columbia. Eifion Williams, the Society’s historian, recounts that Welsh immigration was tied heavily to British Columbia’s economic growth in the mid-19th century.
“The earliest Welsh immigrants came to Western Canada to participate in the fur trade and there was a large influx during the Cariboo gold rush… Vancouver blossomed later, following its selection as the terminus of the transcontinental railroad, following which there were several building booms,” says Williams.
Williams notes that many Welsh immigrants prospered through various economic avenues on the West Coast of opportunity, from property owners to merchants-turned-entrepreneurs.
Some of the Welsh immigrants of the era, while intent in their economic pursuit, gave back to their community and made keeping Welsh culture alive in Vancouver a priority:
“Several of [the Welsh businessmen] contributed to the building of the Cambrian Hall,” says Williams.
While the Cambrian Hall is currently under repair and renovation, it has been the location of the Society since 1929.
Wondering about Wales
Though Wales shares an island with England and most of Scotland, Nerys Haqq, leader of a Welsh choral group named the Cambrian Circle Singers, notes that many are unaware that Wales is even its own country with its own language and culture.
“I find that many people have absolutely no idea who or what the Welsh are. They seem to know the Irish and Scots are different, they make more noise than us.”
An important part of Welsh culture, in particular, is the language. The Society is associated with other Welsh groups that deal with language such as The Dylan Thomas Circle which centers around works of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. The Vancouver Orpheus Male Choir sings a variety of genres of songs, from show tunes to sea shanties (work songs originally sung on merchant sailing ships). Some other established Welsh groups are the Vancouver Men’s Welsh Choir and the Cambrian Circle Singers.
Haqq notes that until as recently 1948, there were still many in Wales that only spoke Welsh, a Brythonic branch of the Celtic language. Welsh is the oldest living European language.
“We are the Celtic group who have actually held on to our language,” Haqq says.
In a move to help keep Welsh language alive and well in Vancouver, Antoine Minard, vice president of the Society, teaches free weekly classes for the Society.
Indeed, while many in the club are either Welsh or have family that are Welsh, Minard emphasizes that the club welcomes those who are interested in Welsh culture even if they don’t have a Welsh background.
“In the past, we have held eisteddfodau (poetry festivals), fielded rugby teams, and had trips around the Lower Mainland. We invite anyone with an interest in the Welsh community to come along and join,” says Minard.
For more information on “Sounds of Christmas,” visit www.vwmc.ca.
For more on the Vancouver Welsh Society and their events, visit www.welshsociety.com.