20 September 2016
2016 WNAA - NAWF Banquet
Calgary presented a very different face for those newly returned from the National Eisteddfod of Wales in Abergavenny. At the western end of the Canadian prairie it has the Rockies as a spectacular background. The city manifests the wealth and prosperity derived from the harvest of the oil from Alberta’s tar sand reserves. However, the atmosphere in the Westin, home to NAFOW for four days, was joyfully and entirely Welsh. After the wonderful opening program on Thursday night it was time for the joint banquet of the WNAA and NAWF on Friday evening.
The banqueting hall was full to capacity and everyone was in a festive mood as the evening opened with the traditional procession of the leaders and guests of the two organizations to the strains of Men of Harlech played by Steve Jensen. After the Canadian and American national anthems were sung the benediction was given by the Reverend Eirian Wyn Lewis the well-known Baptist minister from Mynachlog Ddu in Wales. Hywel Davies, Past President, WNAA in his familiar role as Master of Ceremonies, introduced the members of the top table. A sumptuous dinner was enjoyed by all before we moved on to the main program of the evening.
The event served to bring to the stage two distinguished individuals, both born in Wales. Grenville Thomas came to accept the Heritage Medallion, NAWF’s highest honor for his contributions as a loyal, passionate and generous Welshman. He is our greatest contemporary explorer, prospector, discoverer and entrepreneur. We honor him most of all for so much that he has given back to his Welsh communities both in Canada and in Wales. Robert Lewis came to sing, almost entirely in Welsh. His prodigious voice has brought him two of the National Eisteddfod’s most prestigious awards; the Osborne Roberts Blue Riband in 2015 and more recently the Towyn Roberts Scholarship at Abergavenny this summer.
Grenville Thomas was introduced by Merlyn Williams, his dear friend from their childhood in Wales and later in Yellowknife. It was an introduction made with flair and humor permeated by the deep sense of admiration and community that they had shared over the years. To commemorate the occasion Grenville then accepted the Heritage Medallion and plaque from NAWF secretary Philip Davies. Earlier in the day Grenville gave a wonderful seminar when he told his life story, from his childhood in Wales with Merlyn and others to his amazing adventures in Canada and elsewhere. He was introduced at the seminar by another good friend Brian Lewis, and then surrounded and prompted by his Yellowknife friends he regaled us with the enormous achievements and contributions that he has made over the years. A life worthy of a biography and a movie.
Grenville and Robert’s journeys to Canada and to Calgary happened at very different times and for entirely different reasons. Grenville came soon after graduating in 1964 as a mining engineer from Cardiff University to work at a nickel mine in Sudbury Ontario.
For Robert 2016 brought the opportunity for his first visit to Canada to share with us his brilliant vocal talents. This, as described in detail elsewhere in this issue by Dafydd Evans, he did in great style accompanied by Steve Jensen. Our story with Robert Lewis begins at the National Eisteddfod in Meifod in 2015 when he won the Osborne Roberts Blue Riband. For the third year the NAWF offered an opportunity for the winner to come to North America to perform at NAFOW. This allowed Robert to come accompanied by his parents Ian and Ella and girlfriend Charlotte. Robert received a standing ovation and this was followed by stirring rendering by the audience of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau to bring the formal part of the evening to a close. Many of us lingered to spend communal time together as seen in the photograph of the friends from Yellowknife. They brought a very special sense of friendship and welcome to the whole Festival.
Both Grenville and Robert left for the United Kingdom shortly after the Festival ended. Grenville travelled on business and Robert to begin his third year of studies at the Guildhall School of Music. We wish them both success in their endeavors, the future of Welsh life wherever they go will be brighter and better for their presence and contributions.