Keweenaw Kernewek Copper Country Cornish Cousins

Keweenaw Kernewek
History of the Organization

In October 1992, Howard Curnow, a Cornish Bard from St. Hilary, Cornwall made his second Copper Country presentation. His first had been at Tech Tea Time the previous year. Coincidentally, the 1992 presentation at Grace United Methodist Church took place on the day of the announcement of the creation of Keweenaw National Historical Park.

Among the audience were (Keweenaw Kernewek future members) Barb and Dave Gilbert, Bette and Everett Symons, Mike and Greta Erm, and Jean Ellis.

Howard remarked to the audience that the Cornish in the Keweenaw were losing their roots. He suggested the formation of a Cornish Association. Jean Ellis and Greta Erm remained after the presentation to thank him for coming. As a result, their names went on to his mailing list. Howard’s talent for follow-through showed in the letters both received.

In November, Jean and Greta met with a few other people with Cornish backgrounds. Jean sent postcards to those who had been at Howard’s presentation, announcing the first dinner meeting at Shawn’s Restaurant in Laurium. Fourteen people attended. Harry Vine invited those present to have the second meeting in January 1993 at the Lake Linden Methodist Church. At that meeting, officers were nominated and work began on adapting by-laws modeled after the Southwest Wisconsin Cornish Society.

The group continued to grow throughout 1993. In June, Judy Locy, Illinois Cornish Society and Cornish American Heritage Society Secretary, addressed the group and suggested Keweenaw Kernewek (Keweenaw Cornish) as a name. The Cornish Connection of Lower Michigan asked that the Kernewek help in hosting the 8th Gathering of Cornish Cousins in 1995. In the fall of 1993, Jean Ellis, then president, received a call from Bill Russell, Secretary of the County of Cornwall Male Voice Choir, asking if the Kernewek was interested in hosting the Choir in 1994.

The Choir Concert, held in August 1994 at the Calumet Theatre, was a sell-out. The Calumet Theatre resounded with Cornish voices as the Choir led off with the Star-Spangled Banner and closed with Trelawney. Those who hosted the nearly 100 Cornish visitors were thrilled with their guests.

Working with the Cornish American Heritage Society, the Kernewek continued to “strengthen ties with Cornwall and other Cornish groups.” In July 1995, Calumet was the scene of the 8th Gathering of Cornish Cousins, attracting 325 people from all over the USA, Canada, Cornwall, and even Australia. Cornish flags that marked the routes to various sites were appropriated by local kids and were seen fluttering from the handlebars of various bikes for the next couple of weeks.

In 1996, a group of almost 20 Kernewek members toured Cornwall. Their stories inspired many of the members to hope to make the same trip.

Keskerdh Kernow, a celebration that marked the 500th Anniversary of a Cornish Uprising, was significant in two ways to the Keweenaw Kernewek. On the day in May 1997 that the Cornish began their 300+ mile trek to London, the Kernewek had a parallel march, starting at the old Cliff Mine marker and ending at the Central Church. Pledges to support the marchers raised $2000 toward the Keweenaw County Historical Society’s efforts to purchase and restore the area around Central Mine. This was the first of four Central Walks. In all, the Kernewek has raised more than $7,000 to help the Historical Society’s efforts with Central Mine, a site that was once called Keweenaw’s Duchy of Cornwall.

At the same time, several Kernewek members made plans to be in Cornwall for the end of the trek to London in June 1997. We were also well represented at the 9th Gathering of Cornish Cousins in Ely, MN in late July.

Local membership continued to grow. Summer meetings began to give out-of-town members an opportunity to interact with the membership. By 1999, when members attended the 10th Gathering of Cornish Cousins in Pen Argyl, PA, Kernewek membership was close to 100.

As the new millennium dawned, we had new projects. The efforts to preserve local heritage included donations to the Keweenaw Heritage Center. Physical effort and monetary gifts from the Kernewek were beginning to be very evident in the transformation of the Schoolcraft Cemetery. “Roots” took on a new context as Kernewek members regularly wielded loppers and chain saws, hauled brush and logs out of the cemetery, and constructed and painted the fence. The project is ongoing. In the summer, we began a new tradition of serving tea, saffron buns and scalded cream at Central, coinciding with the annual Central Church Reunion. Proceeds benefit the Historical Society’s efforts toward Central Restoration.

Nine years after our beginnings, the second Cornish choir highlighted the Cornish contributions to the Copper Country. In August 2001, the Holman Climax Choir toured the Keweenaw and performed at the Calumet Theatre. Their unscheduled performance at the Central Mine Church brought tears to many eyes and inspiration for future plans.

As our second decade began in October 2002, plans were underway to help celebrate the start of the second century of Central Church Reunions. Together with the Keweenaw County Historical Society, the Central Church, and the Cornish American Heritage Society, the Kernewek hosted a five-day celebration of the Immigrant Legacy in the Copper Country, in July 2007.

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