Dr. Gwilym Evans - A Man from Nefyn

July 2015

Dr. Gwilym Evans passed away in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in February 2015.

Gwilym was born in Nefyn on April 30, 1927 and lived in the house named Rhianfa on St David’s Road. Not surprisingly, he was known locally as Gwilym Rhianfa. Like most Nefyn young men, he had the sea in his blood. He loved being around the fishermen’s huts on Nefyn Beach and in his early teens spent countless hours on the beach fishing and tending rowing boats. Gwilym was a pupil at the Primary School in Nefyn, and the Grammar School in Pwllheli. When he was in his mid twenties, he pursued a medical degree and in 1960 got a position with the Welsh Regional Health Board in Cathays Park, Cardiff. In 1964 he decided to emigrate from Britain to Canada and he has lived in the Vancouver area for the past 50 years.

When I started this website www.nefyn.com in 2008 with a few stories about my own early years in Nefyn, I received feedback about the website from Vancouver. It was from Dr. Gwilym Evans. He wrote

“As an expatriate who hails from Nefyn, I was thrilled to see Dr. Brian Owen’s website and be able to relive the times, the stories and the characters he so ably depicts in his various articles”.

There followed six years of regular communication by e-mail between Gwilym and myself. We had many common bonds. We were both familiar with Nefyn and the people and characters who lived there – Gwilym as a teenager in the early 1940’s, and I as a teenager in the late 1950’s. We both had done our share of fishing on Nefyn Beach. We both had left the UK in the 1960’s to pursue livelihoods in North America – Gwilym to Canada, and I to the United States. Gwilym loved to converse about anything related to Nefyn and from the get-go he was eager to give comments about some of the stories/photos already posted on the website.

Referring to the story on the “Nefyn Constitutional Club” where I had recalled seeing Gwilym playing snooker in the Club in the 1950’s, he wrote

“I didn’t realize that I had captured the attention of the young people in the Constitutional Club, and that Thomas Edwin and I were the subjects of such interest for prospective players. By the time you (Brian) were allowed to enter the Club I was years past my prime I’m afraid. When I started playing, the person we all looked up to was a dentist Willie Rees of Dolwen. He was an accomplished player and we looked forward playing with him because he provided us with a great many tips on how to improve. He was also generous and he paid for the game. Money was really tight in those days. I remember one memorable day when my cousin, Now Hughes and I took on Thomas Edwin and John Gwilym (Robert Ifor’s brother) in a foursome, with a bet of half a crown each per game. We started as soon as the Club opened and by lunch time, Now and I had lost eight games in a row! An afternoon session was then arranged, and this time Now and I got our revenge – we won all nine afternoon games. That shows you the vagaries of form that can occur on the same day on a snooker table. It also shows you how addictive it can be. Looking back on the time, it would have been far healthier to have taken up golf – but that was much more expensive and only a few professional people could afford to play at the Nefyn Golf Course at that time”.

On the story about “The Last Great Nefyn Herring Catch 1950” he wrote

“All the stories that you recounted are familiar to me; in fact, the very morning that the huge haul of herring was caught, your father passed our house as he made for the beach for the second time that day. He said to me that they had caught a large amount of herring in their nets and that they had been ‘spinning’ the herring to free them for 2-3 hours. It’s amazing but the word he used ‘spinio’ remains vivid in my memory to this day. I had no idea what ‘spinio’ meant at the time; nevertheless, over the years that encounter with your father as he hurriedly strode for the beach has remained indelibly in my mind. As a youngster and later a teen-ager, I spent a great deal of time at the beach around the fishermen’s huts, and I came to know your father quite well. One summer’s eve, Dick Edgar (later the Physics teacher at Pwllheli Grammar School and the 1981 Captain of the Nefyn Golf Club) and I were lazily rowing a boat in the bay. We were invited aboard your father’s motorboat where he was talking with Dicw Brown. We had a long chat with both of them. The fishermen were all characters in their own way, but old John Gongl took the prize. He sported enormous bunions, and his edentulous mouth gave him the Popeye look”.

Gwilym shared a lot of stories about Nefyn during and immediately after the War when it was, as he said, a vibrant community. Most of the stories were about his love of the sea and in particular about mackerel fishing in Nefyn and later about salmon fishing in Vancouver.

“Sea fishing was in my blood too! When I was a pupil in Pwllheli Grammar School during the War, I used to go mackerel fishing with Hugh Williams, custodian of the Nefyn Constitutional Club. Our usual custom was to get up at 4:00am, get down the beach as fast as we could, pick up our row boat and row out to the motorboat which was moored in the Bay. Our preferred course was northeast for Carreg y Llam which could provide on occasions some productive catches. Mr Williams steered his boat and I occupied a rowing boat towed behind by its anchor line. This enabled us to have two lines out of the stern of each vessel, and this led to some pretty hectic fishing when we struck a shoal of mackerel. On many occasions we each caught anything from a hundred to two hundred mackerel, but on one momentous occasion the fish started biting as soon as we left Nefyn Bay and continued unabated until we were abreast of Carreg y Llam. Our boats were littered with hundreds of beautiful mackerel. Then suddenly, as if by magic, the fish abruptly stopped biting. I don’t recall catching any on the way back. In 1969 in Vancouver, I purchased a 29ft twin-powered boat and did a great deal of salmon fishing out on the salt chuck. Those days, salmon (all six types) were plentiful around here. You could troll at slow speed as you do for mackerel fishing, or at anchor and fish with live herring as bait. Salmon of 10-40lbs were the norm; if you caught one over 50lb you got to claim to be a Tyee fisherman. Your Dad would have been in his element! In 1973, I made one of my rare insightful decisions – I sold my boat just before the Arabs quadrupled the price of oil. I remember buying gas for the boat in 1969 for 35cents a gallon! Halcyon days indeed! Over the years the salmon population has decreased immensely due to various factors. The best tasting salmon is the sockeye and this year (2010), for some unknown reason, the return of the sockeye to the Fraser River was the best since 1913. An estimated 30million fish went up the river to their spawning grounds. One branch of the river is only two miles from my house, and when I went there for a stroll recently, the fish could be seen jumping to the surface all over the place. The sockeye run occurs every four years towards the end of August. Unlike the Atlantic salmon, of course, all the Pacific salmon die after spawning.”

Referring to the story on “Leaving Nefyn for America 1968” and on his own decision to immigrate to Canada in 1964 he wrote

“I never knew you attended the Welsh College of Advanced Technology (WCAT) in Cardiff. The place I worked at was the Temple of Peace and Health; there in the ’inner sanctum’ the Regional Health Board administered to the needs of Wales in relation to capital building of hospitals, appointments of all consultants, coordinating with all the lesser Hospital Boards etc etc. I stayed on there from 1960 to 1964 but found it too political for my liking. After a meeting with a Canadian surgeon in a London conference, who recommended I visit Canada to evaluate their system, I took off in 1964 for a two-week holiday to Canada. It was then that I found the Rockies and Vancouver! I was quite smitten by both and upon my return to Cardiff I made the arrangements to emigrate forthwith. Within six months I landed in Canada and went to look for work. Because I selected the attractive area of Vancouver, which was well supplied with physicians, I had to sit the Canadian medical examinations (a deterrent for settling in Vancouver). I have never regretted the move despite having to re-write my exams”.

We had several e-mail exchanges about what in retrospect were trivial things although they seemed important at the time. I remember one in particular. I had identified the two houses on the extreme left in the photo titled “Nevin West End” (the 15th photo in the group “Nevin Views in the 1890’s” on this website) as Rhianfa and Gwynfryn. Gwilym initially did not agree and sent me an e-mail explaining his reasons. He indicated

1) Rhianfa and Gwynfryn were identically structured houses and the second house in the photo had a peaked roof facing the road.
2) Rhianfa had gable-end windows in the attic and he sent a modern photo of the house with those windows present. The house I identified as Rhianfa in the old photo did not have any gable-end attic windows.

I could not dispute his conclusions because after all he had lived in Rhianfa and yet ....... Later in the week another e-mail from Vancouver cleared up the problem.

“Oops. Brian I misled you. Attached please find a modern photo of Gwynfryn – it does have a peaked roof facing the road”

We concluded that the two houses were indeed Rhianfa and Gwynfryn Rhianfa was built initially without gable-end attic windows and the windows were added later.

He had many interesting stories about his teenage years during the War in Nefyn. When I asked him to write about those experiences so I could put them on the website, he was more than willing to do so, and hence the article titled “Nefyn Recollections from Vancouver, Canada 1944”.

For years, Gwilym and his wife Irene (also a Doctor) were proud members of the Vancouver Welsh Society and they participated in many of the Society’s activities in the Cambrian Hall at 215 East 17th Avenue in Vancouver. Gwilym was an instructor in the Welsh learners class at Cambrian Hall for several years and served as Vice-President of the Society in 2014. He loved his adopted country Canada especially the Rockies and the Vancouver area. He had many Welsh expatriate friends that he had met through the Society including John O Pritchard (originally from Talysarn) and Idris Hughes (originally from Bethesda). He was very devoted to Welsh causes and was indignant about the way the Liverpool Council had handled the Tryweryn incident in the early 1960’s. In one of his last e-mails, Gwilym encouraged me to read a book titled “Hanes Hen Feddyg” by Dr E Tudor Jones, a family doctor based in Cricieth who had written about his medical and army life. He had found the book to be extremely well written and just a delight to read.

The communication between us tapered off towards the end of 2014 and in the Vancouver Welsh Society’s Spring 2015 newsletter www.welshsociety.com, it was reported that Gwilym had passed away on February 2, 2015. He was 87 years old. He leaves his wife Irene in Vancouver and an elder brother Robin Evans (Robin Rhianfa) who lives in Nefyn.

Truly a man from Nefyn - dyn o Nefyn yn wir!

Dr. Brian Owen
Emmaus, PA, USA

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