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Welsh Settlement

The Welsh are one of the smallest ethnic groups in the Saskatchewan population. One of the principal reasons for their relative paucity was that the mines and metalworks of Wales were attracting large numbers of migrants during Saskatchewan’s pioneering period, so the Welsh rural surplus had a closer and more convenient destination. By 1921, only 1,587 Welsh immigrants were recorded in Saskatchewan, a mere 0.21% of the provincial population, although this is an underestimate as many emigrants from Wales were often labelled as British. Subsequently, small numbers of Welsh continued to arrive in the province and raise families; by the 2001 census, 13,935 people claimed Welsh ancestry, of whom 965 (6.9%) claimed Welsh-only ethnicity, compared to 12,965 (93.0%) who claimed to be partly of Welsh origin. Together they comprised just 1.45 % of the total provincial population.

Most early Welsh immigrants scattered throughout the region, although by 1921 52 % were in census divisions 5, 6, 7 and 11, and within these areas 19.5% were in the three cities of Saskatoon, Regina and Moose Jaw. The major exception to this dispersion lies in the distinctive Welsh settlement area around Bangor, in southeastern Saskatchewan. However, the 250 Welsh settlers who arrived in 1902-03 were actually immigrants from the Welsh colony in Patagonia, southern Argentina: they were attracted by the prospect of homestead land as well as the imposition of the Spanish language and Argentine military conscription on the formerly Welsh school system in the Chubut settlement. Welsh members of Parliament helped raise money for the charter of a vessel to bring them to Canada. Soon after they arrived, they established three school districts: Llewellyn in 1903, and Glendwyr and St. David’s in 1904. In addition, their religiosity led them to create four mainly Welsh congregation churches in the area: St. Asaph’s Anglican (1902), St. David’s Anglican (1907), Llewelyn Bethel United (1910), and Seion United (1911, dissolved in the 1960s). As with most small ethnic groups that do not have a constant replenishment from the homeland, they have largely lost their language and culture. However the concentration of Welsh names in the area still survives, together with a pride in the Welsh heritage that led to a major centennial celebration in the summer of 2002 and to a book of family histories.

But the Welsh cannot only be considered in relation to the settlement of the province. One of the most influential figures in the early 19th century mapping of western Canada was David Thompson, born in London of Welsh-speaking parents. In addition, many major figures in Saskatchewan life were of Welsh heritage. Prominent among these were two Premiers (Woodrow Lloyd and Allan Blakeney), Lewis H. Thomas, a pioneering archivist of the province in 1948–57, Howard Richards and Adrian Seabourne, both graduates of the University of Wales who became professors of geography at the two universities (the latter was also instrumental in the development of rugby in the province), and George Taylor, from Blackwood in Wales, who was one of the province’s prominent labour lawyers in the 1970s. These provide a few examples of how the Welsh, despite their small numbers, have helped the development of the province.

Wayne Davies

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