THERE are many things that make the city of San Fernando great, but few seem to know them. We failed in our efforts to show them. Places and scenes to recall the past remain in our hearts and minds, but we must do more to preserve and promote the heritage of our much-loved city.
A look into our history reveals that a famous tourist came to our shores on Christmas Eve in 1870. It was the English writer Charles Kingsley who visited the then small town of San Fernando. He wrote about his experiences in his book Christmas at Last in the West Indies. The publication was described as “the book of an ordinary tourist”.
Kingsley went on to give a detailed and colorful account of his ride on the Cipero streetcar pulled by long-legged mules and his visit to the nearby Cedar Grove estate with its tall palm trees at the entrance to the great house. Much was seen then, and still more is to be seen to-day, of the places and scenes of the quaint town which has become our thriving southern city.
We no longer have the sweet aroma of sugarcane wafting through the air, or the site of the nearby Pointe-a-Pierre refinery glowing brightly at night. But there is much more to share about the paths we have walked, the old places and the stories of those who have gone before us.
Yes, we have a few historical remains to remind us of our past and other places for an eager tourist to see. But all this will be a distant memory if we do not outline a tourism plan to guide our visitors, local and foreign, who flock around our famous hill.
A few years ago, I took the time to identify 15 heritage sites in the city to add to an earlier list of eight or nine sites, including the Carnegie Library and the train station. A quick tour map revealed some interesting routes. I shared my thoughts with a southern-based tour guide, but was disappointed to hear him say, “There’s not much to see and know in San Fernando.” How sad.
Today we have the privilege of sharing a few new views and much more about how we came to be who we are today. Our ethnic groups have merged with our culture, eager to tell the stories of our heritage in cuisine and celebrations.
Meanwhile, the faithful San Fernando Hill looks down on the small, sprawling metropolis as the old cane fields give way to housing schemes, shopping malls and new businesses. But the legacies are there, hidden in plain sight or buried under several layers of clay.
The small town has risen to modern times, but with its growth comes concern. We are busy making history but leave little for others to see. Many are passionate about the place of their childhood, but we fail to document their stories or even tell the stories of the past.
As a grateful son of Sando land, I must trumpet the need for a tourism plan for the city. One that we will share with the tourists that come our way. A plan that describes and showcases our heritage, from Aboriginal days to slavery and indenture, to modern enterprise and celebration, and all those who have worked hard to get us to where we are as a city.
Over the years I have looked for signs, statues, streets and monuments to identify our past. Most are missing and the old stories are not being told. What we offer is a modernized vintage of our history that has disfigured our past… our heritage is scattered across the hills of Naparimas. We need to fix this as a product worth saving that fits into a tourism plan that is well thought out and valued.
We need to bring back special events from our past, like the San Fernando Sailing Regatta, an event for many years that even governors have attended. We can highlight our artistic heritage with murals and install historical markers as landmarks to tell our stories.
But we cannot let our heritage belong only to celebrations reduced to a series of sweet and wine events, devoid of the cultural substance that underlines the true spirit of Sando. While special activities have their place in cultural expression, we cannot continue to celebrate and fail to preserve our history for all to see.
A detailed map of our heritage sites will show where Aboriginal people landed to begin their religious pilgrimage up High Street, then past their homes on Carib Street and along their ‘sacred’ hill of San Fernando. Also, Embacadere, where ships loaded sugar cane products from the surrounding estates in the days when sugar was king. The adjacent bank at the mouth of the Cipero River, where the great Palmiste estate begins… there are no preserved remains for tourists to see.
Then there is Cipero Street, named after the river that also gave the name to the town of Siparia. And the site of the country’s first tram line from Bay Road to Golconda, near Corinth Hill, the birthplace of the famous painter Casabon. The waterfront site at Vistabella where the steamer Lady McLeod sank in 1854 and the sites of the Hosay riots/massacre – where blood was shed.
And, of course, the corner of the Carnegie Library, formerly Central Market, where a supporter of Uriah “Buzz” Butler lost his life. There are no signs of the unfortunate incident when 17 men died in the 1904 Jarvis Street coal mine disaster, or of the first black African priest to be “killed” for doing his pious duty.
All these things and more continue to be hidden from the eyes and hearts of our city’s people and visitors. Like a dark mask over our past, we are playing catch with our heritage. It is time to give some priority to the tourism plan.
The old train station has rotted away over the years, the Carnegie Library is falling apart. Why can’t we all see that this is all part of the demise of our heritage. We walk past the library every day and can only say what a shame. Our leaders honor our heritage in words, not deeds, and we continue to uphold that. We treat our place with such neglect…precious heirlooms are going down the drain. There is no pride, no system to preserve what we callously reject. What is this? What will tourists really see?
So we will continue to try and cry that the soul of our nation will be preserved by those who truly love this land. Southerners need to take a stand. We are known for our hospitality and this bodes well for tourism as well. Some even say we have the best tourist destination in our nation.
I was recently encouraged to hear that new San Fernando Mayor Robert Parris is working on a tourism plan. I wait with anticipation. The people of the town and the surrounding area should be calm and prepared for the tourists when they arrive, as the English poet Kingsley did many years ago. It was about time we had a tourism plan for our southern city.