THERE was some seriously bad weather in San Fernando in the final days of 1903, the year the Red House was torched by people rioting over the price of water.
In fact, there was so much rainfall that the rich folks of the town had to order other people to work harder to organise things for the New Year’s Day Regatta, an annual event where teams rowed around the famed Farallon Rock and back to the King’s Wharf Jetty.
The Regatta organisers pulled it off in the end, with the very important acting Colonial Secretary Hugh Clifford arriving by train from Port of Spain, and other northerners arriving aboard the Gulf Steamer to take in the lime.
All of this we know because of the reporting of The Mirror, one of the many newspapers that would be born and die over the course of Trinidad’s colonial-era history (like The East Indian Weekly, Argos, Trinidad Chronicle), among the only surviving relics of the time being the Catholic News and the Guardian.
Anyway, The Mirror wrote that things down in San Fernando were going quite splendidly that day, and it was well into the afternoon races when BAM! an exploding cannon took the head off Mr Charles Pasea.
The newspaper reported rather dryly, “It was however at this period of the day when the sky was clearing and spectators increasing that the gun which had been firing at the close of each event unexpectedly went off killing Mr CM Pasea, the Honourable Secretary and Treasurer to the Regatta Committee, an event which naturally abruptly closed the proceedings”.
The Mirror went on to tell of the colourful racing details, from who refused to accept second place to which businessman pulled his prize, to the fact that a good time was had by all despite the beheading, and that the after-party had to be cancelled.
The festival would take a three-year break, and that cannon would be discarded (who would want to remember, right?) after Pasea got a fitting burial at the Paradise Cemetery.
And somewhere along the way, San Fernando’s premier event would peter out before our Independence, and the Regatta passed into history, its importance recorded in the periodicals of the time, a few photos, and the memory of those old enough to remember.
But in a curious turn of things, the beheading cannon, buried and forgotten, would be unearthed and find its way into the eclectic collection of San Fernando historian and Express writer Louis B Homer, who died last August.
Where exactly he found it, Homer never said, but it ended up in the yard of his home, the ultimate conversation piece to introduce the visitor to the things he had stored at his place, while lobbying for his items to form the nucleus of a San Fernando Museum.
Homer’s stuff, from the rare books and photographs, to the Amerindian greenstone ceremonial axe heads and the handles of the casket used to carry the body of CLR James, could fill that museum.
Homer didn’t live to see it, but a temporary museum was opened at Circular Road, San Fernando, last October by then San Fernando mayor Dr Navi Muradali, who would later be deposed along with the majority of the People’s Partnership candidates in the local government licking that very month.
On the day the temporary building was opened, big plans were announced for the restoration of the old railway station at King’s Wharf, the town’s original hub, to be the site of the permanent museum. A dossier was compiled with the help of Citizens for Conservation, and presented to the Ministry of Diversity and Social Integration, with the expectation that it would be listed as a site worthy of preservation, and therefore a candidate for State protection and funding.
All of this has fallen to pieces. The temporary museum has been shuttered, the items brought there for display taken back by their owners. The city is under new management. San Fernando’s deputy mayor, Junia Regrello, said the proposal for that temporary museum at Circular Road, San Fernando, has been withdrawn. The building will now be converted into the corporation’s disaster unit.
Regrello said, “(The museum plan) has been withdrawn and there is a change in policy by the new council. We had a need for an ODPM (Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management) main building. We examined what was in front of us and found that there was a need for a proper ODPM building, because in case there was a disaster, for example, a tsunami.”
He said the ODPM currently stores beds and mattresses in two freight containers at Skinner Park, San Fernando.
“When we looked at the museum that was on Circular Road we found that it had very little artefacts, little material and information in it. I know a lot of stuff was given to them by Louis Homer’s family. The family took them back after a while, so when we went in there it had very little to offer the public as a museum,” he said.
Regrello said the temporary museum was not well developed and “probably not well thought out”, so the project was abandoned and the council was moving to establish its disaster management unit.
As for plans to recreate the old railway station and convert the building into the San Fernando museum, Regrello said that, too, may be abandoned.
“The plan was not a bad idea. We have been considering. But now there is the waterfront development plan put on by the Ministry of Planning and now they are revisiting that idea in terms of what plans they have. They are currently meeting with stakeholders to put forward proposals for the development of the waterfront. So based on the development of those plans we would decide whether or not we will use the building for the museum or we will look at other options,” he said.
Regrello has his own proposal for the San Fernando Museum. He said the San Fernando Hill seemed an ideal location for the establishment of a museum. “I am looking at the top of the San Fernando Hill for the site for the museum. I am looking at that as a possibility and it will give the planners of the waterfront more scope and more space in terms of their development,” he said.
Meantime, Homer’s collection remains intact. The items have been catalogued, boxed and stored, waiting to tell their stories.
Note – Express writer Carolyn Kissoon contributed to this report