Wales, located west of England on the island of Great Britain, is thought to be one of the oldest countries in the world because evidence of human habitation goes back nearly 200,000 years. A nation of great beauty and sharp contrasts, it is known for its numerous coal mines, its many medieval castles and its rugged coastlines responsible for many shipwrecks. The people, fiercely proud of their homeland and ancestry, are descendants of various groups including Celts, Scandinavians and Romans. Welsh, one of the country’s two official languages and also one of the oldest languages in Europe, still survives as a living language, setting Wales apart from the rest of Britain. In the western and northern parts of the country, Welsh is still spoken by the majority, while there has been a resurgence of the language in recent years in the eastern and southern sections.
Wool is the dominant fabric used in clothing and reflects Wales’ important sheep breeding and wool industries. One of the typically Welsh textiles made are the nursing shawls which are made of Welsh flannel and used by mothers to carry theirs babies around with their hands free.
The Welsh have a strength of spirit and character that has been shaped by a history of struggles against invaders, and efforts to earn a living from a rugged land. Well known for their love of song, music, and literature, they hold the annual Royal National Eisteddfod, meaning ‘contest’, to celebrate poetry, writing, singing and instrumental music. In addition, the country’s male choirs, which have historically been associated with the coal mining communities of South Wales, are known internationally. Wales is famous for its Welsh love spoons, which were originally carved by young men and offered as tokens of affection to girls. Today the ornate carvings are generally given as gifts of affection, as mementos, or on special occasions.
Following the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Rebellions of 1837, disbanded Welsh soldiers stayed on in Canada creating settlements along Lake Erie. Encouraged by the Cariboo Gold Rush in British Columbia, a second wave of immigrants began coming here in 1862. The influx continued into the 20th century based on the ebb and flow of economic times and world tensions. Today the largest Welsh groupings are in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta, although there are communities located throughout the country. Their presence is evident in such place-names as Cape Prince of Wales (Quebec), Welshpool (New Brunswick), Cardiff (Alberta) and Lake St. David (Manitoba). The Welsh have established several cultural organizations and historic festivals here. Most major cities have a St. David’s Society, named for the patron saint of Wales, some have Welsh choirs, and some hold traditional festivals, such as Gymanfa and Ganu, and eisteddfods. Today, over 458,000 Canadians are of Welsh ancestry.
Sponsor: Daphne Howells, with Bonnie, Happy and Robb and their families | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons