Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The coming of Independence


Back then: Marine Square, Port of Spain.

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Trinidad and Tobago passed through many phases before it became independent from colonial domination, involving slavery and indenture, to Crown Colony government, then as a member of ten islands desirous of forming the West Indian Federation.

With the death of the federation in 1958, a new day dawned for Trinidad and Tobago on August 31, 1962, when it became independent.

By leaps and bounds, the new nation moved from a plantation economy, involving cacao and sugar, into a highly industrialised society with huge energy resources, leaving behind memories of the past.

With independence came free secondary education, a national holiday, television, a concert hall for San Fernando and the renaming of two major landmarks. Marine Square became Independence Square and Broadway, San Fernando, became Independence Avenue.

In other areas, the arms of Trinidad "Miscerique Probat Populos et Foedera Jungi" (He approves of the Union of the peoples and a common treaty) gave way to "Together we aspire Together we achieve."

The Union Jack was also replaced with a red, white and black flag. Rule Britannia was replaced with an anthem composed by Pat Castagne and the Queen as the Head of State was replaced by a Governor General, and later a President.

These and many other changes took place as part of independence.

There are, however, some historical landmarks of the past worth remembering.

Independence Square is one of those places that has changed its history since it was originally a residential area in the 1900s.

Formerly called King Street, Plaza de la Marine or Marine Square, Bankers' Row and now Independence Square, it has played its part throughout our history.

As a residential area in Port of Spain, it was enclosed on four sides with six foot high walls, from Frederick Street to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The walls were erected by Governor Sir Ralph James Woodford, first civil governor and were built to protect the young trees planted by James Bailey, former gardener to the Duke of York.

Bailey came to Trinidad as bandmaster aboard Admiral Harvey's Flagship during the British conquest of Trinidad in 1797, and in the course of his stay in Trinidad he was responsible for laying out the Botanical Gardens.

Further developments to the square came in 1816, when the Cabildo had appointed the town's first engineer, Baron Schack, and assigned him the task of laying out Marine Square. To achieve this, dozens of mule carts were employed to transport earth from the Laventille hills to fill the swampy area.

By 1821 some 102 trees were planted and the area became one of the main centres of commerce. Gardens and walks were laid out and a bandstand for military concerts was erected in the square.

A keeper was appointed in 1837 to destroy the corbeaux nesting in the trees.

A portion of land between Marine Square and South Quay was filled, and a new quay, east of St Vincent Street was built. The wharf then stood at the foot of St Vincent Street.

In the area of commerce, the Colonial Bank opened its doors on May 15, 1837, at the corner of St Vincent Street and King Street, known as "Stinking Corner".

Then came a change in administration.

A new governor, Sir Henry McLeod, was appointed and he broke down the walls around the square

The area then became a major centre of commerce. At nearby South Quay, a landing port was constructed to facilitate the trading of produce from Venezuela. Boats and traders from Venezuela arrived in their hundreds to sell their merchandise.

Olga Mavrogordato, in Voices in the Street , described the development of the wharf and Marine Square area as an initiative by the Cabildo.

"During Spanish occupation, the Roman Catholic Cathedral stood on the present site of Tamarind Square. Mud flats covered by the sea at high tide stretched over the land from St Vincent Street to the seashore.

The last reclamation took place in 1906 when Edward and Richmond Streets were extended to meet Marine Square," she noted.

Up to 1919, Marine Square was one of the main venues for Carnival celebrations.

"It was there the Victory Carnival of 1919 was celebrated," stated Adrian Camps-Campins.

In the borough of San Fernando two major changes marked the occasion. One was the renaming of Broadway to Independence Avenue. Broadway at the time linked Harris Promenade to the intersection of Rushworth Street. Along the street were some of the prestigious dwellings owned by elite families, including the Koon Hows mansion.

Naparima College and the Presbyterian buildings stood on a promontory overlooking Broadway.

It was in that area that a bara vendor named Ali was partner to the change in name from bara to "doubles". It became official when a hungry young student from the college needed two baras instead of one and he called for a "double".

At the entrance to the college, a cobbler of the past era plied his trade by repairing damaged suitcases and applying new soles to shoes that were "laughing" (shoes damaged at the front and in need of urgent repairs).

It was home to masman "Satan" and Hatters steelband.

Two-way traffic flowed freely along the street until it was overcome by the influx of cars and commercial vehicles using Broadway to get to the San Fernando Colonial Hospital. The area was a rendezvous for nurses and their companions, living in the hospital compound.

In less than a decade, the area suddenly became the insurance district of the town, with old structures giving way to new commercial buildings.

The changes that took place did not remove Broadway as the prestigious cultural centre of the town.

On August 27, 1962, Naparima Bowl, the only southern cultural centre, was opened by Dr Patrick Solomon, then Minister of Education.

The Bowl was constructed in an area referred to as the "Tray ", where monthly police concerts were held.

Construction of the Bowl began when the sum of $138,000 was donated by government to erect a concert hall. Southern businessman Robert Montano and musicologist Grace Abdool had pioneered the project.

Architect Kevin Barcant designed the centre with an open-air amphitheatre to accommodate 2,500 patrons, and 600 seated in the auditorium. On completion, the Bowl cost taxpayers $450,000.

In the area of home entertainment, national television was introduced as part of the Independence celebrations. Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) introduced the system to viewers in August 1962.

For the first time viewers were able to witness the Princess Royal lowering the British flag and Dr Eric Williams, first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, raising the national flag before a crowd of some 10,000 citizens.

Those were some of the landmarks of Independence which means many things to different people

Whatever the meaning, the landmarks have remained as safety deposit boxes, storing memories that connect the past to the present and pointing the way forward to a brighter future.