North America Festival of Wales

Concerts, competitions, seminars, banquets and an awards gala are all part of the fun at this weekend’s North American Festival of Wales in Toronto. Recently Celtic Life International spoke with the organization’s Executive Secretary Dr. Megan Williams about the festivities.

What is your own ethnicity / heritage?
My mother is from South Wales. She moved to the US after marrying my father. His grandparents were also from Wales. I met my husband in Wales (he is a native and first-language Welsh speaker). We lived there for 7 years before moving to the US in 2010.  I am 62.5% Welsh, 12.5% German and the remaining ¼ is Irish, Scottish, English and French.  My children are over 80% Welsh.

When and why did you get involved with this event?
I applied for the job of Executive Secretary in Oct 2011 and officially started Jan 2012. I am the only paid employee and work part-time. We rely volunteers for additional work and they are crucial when it comes to running the festival.

What are the challenges of being involved?
It is a challenge but also exciting that we go to a different city and hold the event in a different hotel each year. There are always different logistical challenges as 2 venues are never the same. It is also really fantastic that we get to go to different areas and get to work with local Welsh societies.

What are the rewards?
Having a successful festival where the attendees have really enjoyed themselves. I appreciate how kind our membership is and feel very grateful at the thanks and appreciation they give me. It makes the extra hours I put in over the summer months worth while.

Why is it an important event for the community there?
It is important for our members and attendees to connect with their Welsh Heritage and learn about various aspects of Welsh culture. It is also a wonderful time for people who have become friends through the Welsh-American community to catch –up and enjoy all things Welsh.

What can attendees expect this year?
A warm welcome and a great Welsh experience. We have an outstanding program put together. In the past, we have opened the festival with a folk concert, but we thought there was no better place to welcome the Three Welsh Tenors than Toronto. We also have the most celebrated choir in Wales performing at the Grand Concert , the Pontarddulais. Welsh-American Catrin Rowenna Davies, winner at the National Eisteddfod in Wales, will be singing at our Gala Banquet.

How else are you involved with the Celtic community there?
By keeping in touch with Welsh Societies through the US and Canada throughout the year. I think there is room to extend our connections and work with Celtic groups, as well as the Welsh groups  we already know.

Are we doing enough to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
In general, some parts of Celtic culture and more well known that others and therefore easier to promote. I think that there are many in North America who have Celtic roots from more than one source, Scottish and Irish or Irish and Welsh.  Our event focuses on Welsh culture, and in general, people are less familiar with Wales than they are with Scotland and Ireland. I think this has gradually improved over the last 15-20 years.  I think more work can always be done as people can never know enough about the wonderful Celtic cultures.

What can we be doing better?
Encourage people throughout North America to look into their heritage and once discovering where their families came from, take an active interest in learning more and becoming involved with Celtic associations in North America. It is one thing knowing where you are from and it is another to really feel it.  I was lucky to spend my summers in Wales so have always had a strong connection with my heritage, something I will pass on to my children.

What does the future look like for the event?
The future looks very promising. We have a great program already lined up for 2014 and some interesting cities on our future venues list. We look forward to many more years of celebrating Wales, its culture and language and to continue to develop new relationships with Celtic organizations throughout North America.