2023 Festival Report

Picture of bass baritones John Ieuan Jones and Steffan Lloyd Owen, soprano Eiry Price, and accompanist Rhiannon Pritchard in front of Ottawa sign.

The Ontario Welsh Festival’s Rebirth!!!!

After a three year hiatus, the board of the Ontario Welsh Festival were thrilled to present the 2023 Ontario Welsh Festival in Ottawa, Ontario. Under the leadership of Alison Lawson and with enormous help from Myfanwy Davies (both living in our capital city) we did everything possible to ensure the success of the weekend. Would anyone come, we wondered, after years away and the fears of the pandemic? 

We are happy to report the weekend was an enormous success!  People were so happy to socialize again and to celebrate Welsh heritage. And how privileged were we to be entertained by some amazing Welsh performers, namely bass baritones John Ieuan Jones and Steffan Lloyd Owen, soprano Eiry Price, and accompanist Rhiannon Pritchard (pictured above).

The weekend started as usual with the Welcome Tea on Friday afternoon with the wonderful Mary Muckle at the harp, and then the Noson Lawen on Friday evening, emceed by Betty Cullingworth.  The “visitors” from Wales were delighted to participate and Rhiannon graciously accompanied whomever needed her.  Despite a horrendous journey from Manchester (missing flights, delays, etc.) the guys seemed to accumulate energy as the evening progressed.  If you ever have a chance to hear Ieuan and Steffan perform “If I Were a Rich Man”, do not miss it! We were also treated to excellent local Ottawa talent including Mary Muckle’s harp ensemble, and The Carleton Recorder Group directed by Jennifer Davis. 

Saturday’s timetable was chock-a-block, starting with the AGM and followed by a fascinating lecture given by Anastasia Llewellyn on the role of keeping the Welsh language alive as played by Bishop William Morgan’s translation of the Bible to Welsh. 

The Saturday afternoon bus tour with David Jeanes as our very knowledgeable guide saw us whisked around the city to see places with Welsh connections, including a visit to the Governor General’s official residence, a definite highlight. Those not attending the bus tour of Ottawa were able to view the Welsh film Y Syrcas

We got back to the hotel just in time to prepare for the Gold Award Banquet.  As we had not held a Festival since 2019, two awards were presented this year, the 2020 award to David Pugh (accepted by Myfanwy Davies) and the 2022 award to the Rev. Meriel Simpson.

And then it was a short (yet windy walk) to the concert at Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa and a wonderful evening of entertainment by these award-winning singers. From the moment that the four met up at the airport, they totally gelled, and all attendees fell in love with them.  After the Saturday evening concert someone asked: “How long have the three soloists been performing together?”  They didn’t believe the reply of: “Tonight is the first time”!  Undoubtedly, the brilliance of their accompanist greatly enhanced the evening.

The Gymanfa was held Sunday at the local Cathedral with Ieuan conducting (his first time!) and our brilliant Alan Thomas at the organ. Notice the singular “gymanfa” because there was just one session this year.  We have often discussed this possibility and it was a “resounding” success this year.  It gave those of us who live in the Toronto area the opportunity to sing our hearts out and also get home that same evening.

And for a bit of fun, Rev Dr Cerwyn Davies was asked to compose two limericks for a contest, one in Welsh and the other in English, omitting the last line of both for the competitors to complete.   Unfortunately, he was unable to attend and adjudicate in person, so this role was taken over by Hefina Phillips.  Here are the two winners:

Our Dewi to Ottawa went,
To sing he was truly hell bent.
He sang every song
The whole weekend long,
To repent, not lament, his intent.

– Jennifer Davies of Ottawa

I Ottawa ‘leni amdani
‘Rwy’n teimlo fel gwd dôs o ganu.
Penwythnos o hwyl 
Tra’n dathlu yr Wyl.
Mae ‘nghalon yn dechrau carlamu

– Carys (first time attendee)

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend in Ottawa made by possible through the dedication and hard work of many volunteers, and of course, our faithful attendees. Diolch yn fawr, iawn!

The 2024 Ontario Welsh Festival will be held at The Arden Park Inn in Stratford, Ontario, April 19-21, 2024, and we hope to see all of you there!