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Our History

 

THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY

Prior to the year 1836, the management of the Town of Castries was in the hands of the Government, with the Colonial Treasurer as the officer responsible for the collection of taxes.

Sometime shortly after 1836 the town was put under the care of certain Wardens who were appointed by the Government and who were responsible to it for the good government, maintenance of order, regulating shop hours, principally those of “grog-shops” and the keeping of nuisances from the streets of the town.

The Wardens seem to have had very wide powers as will be seen from the following Notices taken at random, from a large number published by them from time to time during period.

 

 

MUNICIPAL CHAPTER-1850

It had been hoped that the jubilee year of 1940 would have been marked by the creation of a Mayoralty and the City Council for Castries but fate decreed otherwise. We have had to wait for 27 years longer for the ambition to become a reality. A Mayor would have been no innovation, for our forefathers of 116 years ago possessed that highly prized distinction. It is not possible to say whether that dignitary ever wore a chain and robes of office on ceremonial occasions, but it is true that once upon a time, Castries had a Mayor, for that matter, more than one. As we proceed we shall learn much more about them.

By an Ordinance No. 6 of the 2nd May, 1850, it was enacted that a Corporate Body should be constituted in and for the management of the town of Castries entitled “The Mayor and Town Council of Castries”.

The Ordinance provided for the election of nine Town Councillors {who would elect the Mayor from among their number} and two Auditors, by ballot of the Burgesses.

It seems to have been the intention of Government to extend the same privileges to the other towns and villages of the Islands as the reader will see from the Notice and Proclamation quoted. However, there is no record that the inhabitants of these districts ever took advantage of the express invitation. The only action necessary for the creation of a Town Council in the out districts was the forwarding of a petition to the Government, requesting such a Council, signed by two-thirds of the well qualified residents. Qualified residents were either jurors or male inhabitants of full age who were owners of three acres of real or free-hold property or the lessees of six acres of land in the district.

The first list of Burgesses, published on the 2nd of January, 1851, consisted of 126 names, and contained only the names tenants and householders of premises of an annual rental value of $10.

The qualification to be elected one of the nine Town Councillors, one third of whom went out of office every year, as well as to be an Auditor {Clergymen were debarred from these offices} was possession of real or personal property of clear value of $300.

The law took a serious view of the duty of qualified Burgesses to take a part in the management of the town for it provided that a qualified person could not refuse to serve as a Councillor or Auditor under pain of a penalty of $50.

At the first election held on the 27th February, 1851 the following Councillors were elected: - Hon. Cyprien Mallet-Paret, Dr. Antoine Clavier, M.D., Messrs Henry Breen. Louis Bory, Charles Wells, Nicholas A. Cools, Louis Glaudon, John Grant and Aldolphe Frederic, and the Auditors, Messrs Raymond Drouilhet and Joseph D’ Aubaignan.

The first citizen to become Worship Mayor of Castries was Henry Hegart Breen, the historian of St. Lucia, later to become Colonial Secretary, and still later Administrator.

There was no provision forbidding Government officers to be members of the City Council and at this first election we find at least three of these. They are: - H. H. Breen, an Irishman who served St. Lucia for over 30 years and who was at the time Registrar of the Royal Court, Hon. Cyprien Mallet-Paret who was Attorney General and Charles Wells, famous editor of the “Palladium”, who was “printer to Her Most Gracious Majesty’s Official Gazette for the sum of ten round dollars payable half yearly in advance, Deputy Post Master, Librarian and Curator to the St. Lucia Library and Museum”.

The first Town Clerk was Henry Aubert, the first Counsel to the Corporation HON. J. M. A. Aubert and the first Market Clerk Alexander Bory. The Town Clerk was also Treasurer, being responsible for the funds of the Corporation.

The powers of the City Council were very wide. They inherited from the Town Wardens the duty of preserving and extending the wharves of Castries for which they received the wharfage dues imposed on owners of droughers and other vessels.

They were required” to keep and maintain at least one good and sufficient school within the limits of the said town of Castries where the English Language and grammar shall be always taught”.

They were to establish” a protective force of Municipal Police to keep watch and ward within the limits of the said Town”.

The duties of the Commissioners of the Castries Water Works were passed on to the Corporation and the first charge against their revenue of 8% levied on lots of land and houses, was the interest and sinking fund of $400, on a loan of $3,000 for twelve years incurred in 1846 by the Commissioners to enable them to establish a permanent supply of fresh water for the town of Castries.

The Corporation inherited from the Commissioners of the Castries Water Works a Credit Balance of $42. 7. 9. At the first assessment of houses and lots, 831 were appraised and at the end of June the Corporation’s finances were in credit to the tune of $86.

Licenses provided another source of the Corporation’s revenue, these being levied on the selling of gun-powder, the keeping of billiard tables for public use, the selling of tobacco, snuff, etc., also on auctioneers and the retailing of merchandise by persons not resident in the town. Auctioneers were heavily taxed in comparison to today the tax being $10, which was also the tax levied on persons retailing in the town while not domiciled therein.

The Mayors of later periods include the names of Alexander Mc Combie, John Grant, N. A. Cools, P. J. K. Ferguson and A. Richard. The list of Councillors from 1851 to 1871 include Messrs. John Taylor Snyder, John Shanks Moffat, Paul Giffard, Francis Peter, P.P. Pujol, Charles DeBrettes, Dr. Charles Bennett, H. Minvielle, Nemorin Lartigue and Andrew Fleming. One of the last Mayors of Castries, His Worship A. Richard, was at the time Manager of Colonial Bank, now Barclays Bank D. C. O. His wife is buried on Morne Fortune and her tomb is well preserved in the cemetery there.

 

 

TOWN CONSTABULARY

An illuminating insight into the mode of life of the inhabitants of the Capital at the time may be gleaned from the duties imposed upon the Municipal Police Constables who kept” watch and ward by day and by night within the limits of the said town”.

This force comprised one Sergeant paid at three shillings per day and six Constables at two shillings per day. For the sake of comparison, it is noted that the 1966 Town Council Estimates show the staff as consisting of a Head Constable and a complement of 12 Constables with salaries of a Head Constable and a complement of 12 Constables with salaries ranging {in descending order] from $2484.00 to $1355.00 per annum.

To us the uniform of the Municipal Constables of the 1850’s must have been motley indeed, for it comprised a “green cloth coatee” white trousers and a forage cap. We consider the present day uniform comprising khaki tunic and trousers with a black peaked cap a more appropriate dress. Who is to say? The old Latin tag comes to mind “De gustibus non est disputandum”.

As to the duties of the Municipal Constabulary, these were defined as follows:-

“To watch over the conduct of persons frequenting the Grog-shops in the town, to prevent quarrelling and disorder in them and to cause the Gros-shops to close at eight o’clock at night.

“also to prevent the beating of Negro Drums without permission in writing from the Mayor.

“to prevent at all hours of the Sabbath the crying or proclaiming or exposure on the streets of any sugarcakes, bois Manioc, cakes, provisions, or other commodities for sale.

“and also to prevent the blowing of shells and trumpets, and the discharging of firearms in the Town,

“to prevent gambling in the streets and public places,

“to prevent servants or other persons galloping horses or mules in the streets,

“to prevent persons indecently exposing themselves in public or loitering or lying about the streets by night;

“to prevent the exposure of chamber utensils in the streets between the hours of seven in the morning and eight in the evening, except in covered boxes,

“to prevent all persons casting rubbish in any other place than those which shall be found tethered or loose in the streets;

“to prevent damage to the fountain and pipes or other materials of the Water Works within the limits of the Town;

“to prevent the exposure of any clothing, bedding or blankets in the streets;

“to kill all swine found loose about the town and to report to the Mayor any person found harbouring swine”.

The inhabitants of Capital today would present the Town Constables with little work if their duties were now as outlined in the foregoing. It is not now necessary for Constables to watch over the conduct of persons frequenting Rum Shops and to prevent quarrelling in them. Outside of Jeremie Street one can pass many of them nowadays without knowing the nature of their business for there is little quarrelling in-side. Negro drums are a relic of past, sometimes heard at festive seasons in the country places. In our modern day the “juke box” has replaced the Negro drum for noise. Horses and mules are rareties in the principal Towns of the colony and our enactments today are directed against the overloading and over-speeding of motor vehicles. The rising generation knows nothing about the horse-and-buggy age except as Museum pieces.

It is observed from the list of duties as defined in the preceding paragraph that the Constables were not intended to serve as fishermen, The Fire Brigade duties must have been a later accretion. It is believed that a Volunteer Group of citizens formed the fire- fighting unit at that time.

When the Castries Town Board was establish in 1890 the fire protection of the town was in the hands of the Board. The Constables served as fire fighters but had very little training in this connection and their equipment consisted of a few lengths of hose, a push cart, and a dozen buckets.

As late as 1916 they had the humiliation of seeing their own head- quarters razed to the ground while they stood by helpless, watching the blazing scene. A story current at the time was that the door to the room where the fire cart and equipment were kept had been repaired the previous week and that the carpenter by mistake had reduced the width by one foot with the result that the cart could not come out. The date was April 1st and perhaps the Constables had been celebrating all Fool’s Day more, well than wisely.

During the period of the hey-day of Port Castries as a coaling station the Constabulary had a whole time job supplying water to shipping.

This job was carried out in shifts--- for water was supplied day and night and quick dispatch was on the essence.

After the fire of 1927 they were maintained as an auxiliary fire-fighting unit to the Police Force and after the 1948 fire they were relieved entirely from Fire Service.

The duties of the Town Constables of the 1960’s are outlined as follows: --

  1. To see that order is maintained in the town of Castries.
  2. To check on seller or vendors to see that they have obtained a market to sell in the town or one mile thereof
  3. To check on licences of all description.
  4. To perform regular duties at the Castries Market. To see that order is maintained and to report any irregularities.
  5. To patrol Columbus Square to see that order is maintained and to prevent the destruction of the fence, hedges and plants etc.
  6. To check on the sanitation of yards.
  7. To go on fish patrol to see that fish for sale is brought to the Market.
  8. To assist the Police in the execution of their duty.
  9. To keep day and night duty at the Constabulary to receive reports.

 

 

THE CASTRIES TOWN BOARD

By Ordinances passed in 1888 and 1889 provision was made for the establishment in and for the town of Castries of a Corporate Body for the government of the said town.

The said Corporate Body was to bear the name of Castries Town Board and was to consist of eight persons, subject to certain qualifications and subject to their being elected as provided for by law.

This Corporate Body was to have perpetual succession and a Common Seal.

In accordance with the provisions of the Ordinance an election was held in December 1889 and the following gentlemen were elected to serve on the Castries Town Board for 1890, Messrs Jules Augier, J. Mac-farlane, J. E. M. Salmon, E. Bennett, R. G. McHugh, M. C. Zepherin, C. Chastanet and G. T. Plummer.

The first meeting of the Castries Town Board was held at the Court House on Thursday, the 2nd of January, 1890, all members being present. They entered upon their duties with great thoroughness and enthusiasm and seemed determined from the very outset to maintain a high standard of respect and obedience for the decisions arrived at in their deliberations and to carry out rigorously, any Bye-Laws which they proclaimed.

At the first meeting James Macfarlane was elected Chairman and it is to be noted that for many years no Deputy Chairman was elected as is the practice today, but whenever the Chairman was absent a member was elected to preside at the meetings and he “was entitled to perform” the duties of the Chairman.

A temporary Town Clerk was appointed in the person of Mr. A. E. Long at a salary of $6 per month but later on in the year, Mr. S. A. F. O’Reilly a former Mico School teacher, was employed permanently at $150 a year. Mr. O’Reilly was the father of three distinguished legal luminaries Sir Lennox O’Reilly, Kt., Mr. G. O. M. O’Reilly, Q. C., (both of whom served as members of the board) and Mr. Justice Harry O’Reilly.

Under the leadership Mr. R. G. McHugh, who stands out preeminently as the great captain of its early destiny, the Board at once initiated and undertook many improvements to the Town and its immediate environs. McHugh has been called the Father of the Board. Ably supported by the late J. E. M. Salmon, James Macfarlane, E. G. Bennett and others, he waged many a successful paper battle with the Government who were reluctant to extend too many privileges to the newly formed Board, and also with die-hard vested interests who impeded them in their attempts to procure land to carry out the necessary improvements to the town.

Early in 1890 a committee comprising Bennett, McHugh and Salmon, was appointed for the purpose of framing Bye-Laws and soon after Committees were appointed for streets, lighting and water. The members worked incessantly to rid the upper parts of the town from grass and weed, repairs to streets and drains began in earnest, the re-alignment of houses, in order that plans for streets and sidewalks could be prepared, was ordered; plans for better lighting of the town; for the improvement of the Water Works and for the erection of a covered market were discussed, and ways and means of carrying them out formulated by the new Housing Regulations.

History has a way of repeating itself and just as the Board’s earlier counterpart, the City Council of 1850, had come into conflict with Government over the Castries wharves so did the Castries Town Board differ from them on many subjects. Fortunately, however, for us common-sense, level-headedness and good sound judgement prevailed, and conflict did not result in open rupture.

 

 

PORT CASTRIES

One of the greatest natural treasure and assets of a Castries is its harbour. Because of its sheltered location and deep water features it has always been of great strategic importance to whichever sovereign power held away over the island. On this account the environs of Castries, (the Morne and Vigie) have served as a British Military Station more or less from 1803 to 1905 when the garrison was removed.

At the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914 the local Defence Force was mobilized and precautionary measures immediately adopted. Members of the Volunteer Force both mounted and foot were posted at La Toc, Vigie and Cul-de-Sac. Warships of the British, French and Australian navies called frequently at Castries for bunkers and German prisoners of war were landed on more than one occasion and confined at the Morne under guard of the Volunteer Force.

In 1915 No. 6 Company of the Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery arrived and took over the military protection of Castries relieving the hard pressed Volunteer Force. German ships of war and submarines were active in the Caribbean and besides the frequent visits of British, and Allied Cruisers in Port Castries, several submarine chasers were stationed here.

After the arrival of the Canadian Forces two contingents of St. Lucia Volunteers each 100 strong left Castries for service overseas.

During World War 11 although St. Lucia was garrisoned by a large contingent of American troops at Vieux Fort and a smaller contingent at Reduit near Gros Islet, Castries was left virtually unprotected except for a small force of Windward Islands Battalion. This was no doubt due to the fact that Castries was no longer important as a bunkering station. The days of the coal-burning ship were over and Castries was not fitted for oil bunkering. However, the German Wardlords did not ignore its strategic potential.

As in World War 1 the Caribbean was active with the presence of enemy submarines. Castries had a serious reminder of this when on the night of March 9th, 1942, a German submarine boldly entered the harbour with deck awash and torpedoed two ships which were berthed alongside the Northern Wharf, the C.N.S. Lady Nelson and the S. S. “Umtata”. The submarine retraced its course and went about its business unmolested while the two ships sank into the mud with the loss of several lives.

The following extract taken from the St. Lucia Handbook of 1924 gives some indication of the importance of Port Castries during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

“The harbour is one of the finest in the West Indies, and steamers of any draught up to 27 ½ feet can lie alongside and be coaled. There is always a large supply of coal kept by the several coaling companies. Water can be had direct from the hydrants on the wharves at a moderate rate. The entrance of the harbour is only one third of a mile across and surrounded by hills. It runs inland for about one and half miles with an average width of three quarters of a mile. As regards the capacity of the harbour it may be mentioned that in 1899 the whole of the U. S. Squadron under Admiral Sampson comprising three battle ships, two first class cruisers and three second class cruisers, as well as the Dutch Warship “Zeeland” were safely berthed inside and took both coal and water, the presence of these nine ships of war in no way interfering with the current business of the Shipping Intelligence shows that during their stay. A reference to the Shipping Intelligence shows that while the squadron was in the harbour ten steamers called in three days, seven of which coaled, the S. S. “Ereza” taking eight hundred tons”.

“As to its safety, attention should be drawn to the fact that during the hurricane of September 1898 which devastated St. Vincent and Barbados and did considerable damage to St. Lucia the business of coaling two steamers was carried on without a hitch. As far back as 1778 Admiral Rodney, in a report of the Earl of Sandwich strongly advocated the retention of St. Lucia by the British; for there he said “The largest ships of war can be careened, be secure during the hurricane months and always ready to afford speedy succor, to His Majesty’s other islands”.

The Coaling of steamers has been made expeditious as possible. In February 1913, “M. S. Cumberland” was given 1,116 tons in five and a half hours, two hundred and three tons per hour. Provisions, ship supplies, etc. can be purchased in bond at a small advance, upon English and American prices---- Fruit and Vegetables are plentiful and cheap; fish, poultry and meat are readily obtained, providers boarding each ship to take orders.

During the year 1919 no less than 519 steam ships entered and cleared, but the opening of the Panama Canal has greatly affected the coal trade so that the aggregate tonnage of steamships at this port for the year 1923 was 1,010,568 tons as compared with 1,201,983 tons for 1919.

 

 

BUILDING THE CASTRIES MARKET

One of the outstanding achievements of this early period is the erection of the Castries Market. In 1891 Mr. Augier moved “that this Board take immediate steps to obtain from Europe or America plans and specifications of a covered Market, and that a loan be raised as soon as possible for the purchase and erection of same”. He went on to say that from a sanitary point of view, there was no doubt that it would conduce to the health and comfort of the Market people by shelter that could be afforded them. Goods exposed for sale would also be protected from the weather. From a pecuniary angle, it would, after paying for itself, be a source of revenue to the Board.

From an ornamental point of view it would improve the appearance of the town, and be always a welcome relief to the eye after meeting with the unsightly coal-heaps which the Government had allowed to be placed on the Northern Wharf, the favorite resort of the town’s people for an evening walk.

It was three years later that the market was formally opened by Hus Excellency Sir Charles Bruce on Monday, 2nd July, 1894. Admission to the market for the occasion was by ticket only. Members of Council, the heads of the respective clergy, the members of representative bodies in Castries and the heads of Departments of Public Service, were invited to luncheon at the Town Hall after the opening ceremony. The band of the Philharmonic Society discoursed sweet strains throughout the afternoon. The day was declared a half-holiday and was marked by universal rejoicing.

There are those who might wish to re-live the day’s scene from the pages of the “Voice of St. Lucia”, of 5th July, 1894. Quote. “Last Monday will mark a date in the history of Castries; for on that day was opened the new Market, the construction of which has been watched by the towns people with so much interest during the past six months.

 

 

VICTORIA PARK AND CHOC CEMETARY

An important step in the social progress of the Town was taken when the following motion standing in his name was moved by Mr. McHugh. The vision of this outstanding City Father has been of immense value to thousands of young men and women up to the present day, quote;----

“Resolved---- That it is expedient that a Recreation ground be provided for the townspeople of Castries, and further that it is meet and desirable that the initiative be taken by the Castries Town Board by the appointment of a committee of the Board to consider the best means of giving effect to this resolution”.

Speaking on the motion Mr. McHugh said that is was not necessary to advocate at any length the necessity for a Recreation ground and breathing space for the town. The question had been before the public, off and on, since the Queen’s jubilee and the need was still to be met considering the rapid development of Castries. One of the reasons for bringing it forward specially, at this time was that all the available spaces were fast being otherwise utilized, so that the longer the matter was delayed the more expensive would be the undertaking. He believed also that the Government would not be unwilling to assist the Board in acquiring the site. That being so he hoped that the Board would approve of the principle by adopting the motion.

Mr. Salmon in seconding the motion said that physical education was as much a necessity as mental education. That it often happened that where the young could not, for want of proper places, engage in healthy sports they had to fall back upon games of hazard and chance which sometimes led to gambling. Breathing spaces for grown-ups were also a necessity if health was to be preserved. The Government made a great mistake in not securing land in the past when it could have been obtained so easily.

Besides, another praiseworthy object now sought in the desire to obtain a recreation ground was that it was to be associated with the memory of our late beloved Queen so that her memory could be kept green in the hearts of her people. Such a memorial, and tend at the same time to promote the comfort and well-being of her people.

Mr. Floissac supported the resolution.

The Chairman quite agreed with all that had been said. A recreation ground was a necessity. Our boys required to be made familiar with the various physical games played by the youths of other lands. They were very often handicapped in the respect when they went from home, by not being able to join in these games, not having learnt them in early life. Then there were girls to consider. This was an age in which physical exercise for girls was strongly advocated, but for this, suitable places for sports and games fitted for them had to be provided. A recreation ground would supply what was needed for both young and old.

Mr. Barnard quite recognized that necessity for a recreation ground and gave his vote for that motion.

The motion having been unanimously adopted a Committee composed of the Chairman, Messrs. McHugh, Floissac and Salmon was appointed to give effect to the resolution.

Later on in 1902 a loan of $1,500 at 4% was raised with the sanction of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to be repaid in 15 years and the Fonds Marchand Lands belonging to Mrs. Clavier were purchased “for the purpose of a recreation ground and as a memorial to her late Majesty Queen Victoria”. The Park was opened on the day of the Coronation of Edward VII and called Victoria Park.

Within the month the College, St. Lucia Cricket Club, and the St. Vincent Branch Cricket Club had applied for cricket pitches, and Mr. Frank Belmar for a site for a tennis court. There was great rush for the use of the new recreation ground and the gratitude of the youth of Castries knew no bounds.

Before Victoria Park was established Columbus Square was the principal outdoor recreation Centre for Castries. The Botanical Gardens (now George V. Park) were used chiefly for growing ornamental flowers and plants but the inhabitants of Castries used it for their afternoon walks while the smaller children played games there.

Since 1934 an adjunct to Victoria Park has been created by using up the adjoining lands of the old Marchand Cemetary.

Victoria Park has been the centre of outdoor sporting activity in St. Lucia since its inception and has been the scene of many Intercolonial Cricket and Football Matches as well as Athletic Sports meetings. Many English Teams have engaged local teams in friendly Cricket and in January 1958 a Pakistan eleven played the Windward Islands. A new Pavillion was built in 1949 and the ground completely enclosed in 1957. The Park is also used for events which entail the collection of large crowds such as the Annual Queen’s Birthday Parade, rallies of school children etc. The pageant in honor of the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and H. R. H. The Duke of Edinburgh in February, 1966 was held there.

With the increasing population and the consequent increasing demand for playing space a playground has had to be provided at Vigie. Traffic congestion on special occasions on the road leading to the Park has been a major problem. Only in 1966 a steel bridge was thrown across the Castries River below the playgrounds in order to improve traffic control and facilitate the exit from Victoria Park.

Another important duty to the inhabitants which passed from the control of Government to that of the Town Board before the close of the 19th century was the upkeep of a cemetery for Castries. For many reasons it was deemed advisable to close the Marchand Cemetery and a new site was being considered. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies, decided that the responsibility of maintaining a Cemetery for Castries should rest on the Castries Town Board.

The Board although not shirking its obligation to the inhabitants of Castries, quite rightly pointed out that it could not maintain a cemetery for a whole parish, as its jurisdiction did not extend beyond a mile from the town boundaries. It therefore asked for an annual subsidy of $100 plus the paying of fees by Government for the burial of papers.

The Board also asked that the Government and the Board should between themselves bear the cost of construction of the new Cemetery. The Administrator, His Honor C. A. King-Harman, appears to have intended that the entire cost of construction should be borne by the Board. The Board however, put up a strong resistance to this view and communicated with the Secretary of State on the subject. The Board won only a partial victory as the following dispatch will show:

 

 

THE FIRE MENACE

No small island in the Caribbean has suffered more from fires than St. Lucia in general and its Capital town of Castries in particular. This is just a summary of very long and sad story.

In 1796 Castries was razed to the ground and all official and private documents and records were destroyed. On that occasion it is said to have been set on fire deliberately during a military engagement between the English and the French.

In 1813 only 17 years later Castries suffered heavy loss by fire when most of the town was again destroyed, and what was left was finished off by a cyclone in 1817.

In this century two major disastrous fires have wiped out substantial portions of the town in 1927 and 1948, while comparatively large fires occurred in 1951, 1959 and 1960. In 1951 a large number of houses on the Eastern side of the Chaussee known as Fonds Le Grand were destroyed. In 1959 St. Joseph’s Convent, the Convent School and Chapel as well as four or five large dwelling houses went up in flames. In 1960 the largest department store in Castries------Messrs. Minvielle & Chastanet Ltd.---was partially destroyed. We have already mentioned elsewhere the destruction of the Castries Fire Bridge Station itself in 1916. However the two crippling fires of recent times were the 1927 and 1948 catastrophes and for a short record of these I can do no better than quote from Rev. Charles Jesse’s “Outlines of St. Lucia’s History”.

“Another crippling blow fell on St. Lucia in 1927---a disastrous fire at Castries. On the night of the 14th-15th May that year, 17 blocks of the island’s little capital were devastated. Practically all the business section of the town was burnt out. In addition, the Post Office, Government Spirit Warehouse, the Magistrate’s Court-house, the Attorney General’s Office, a Friendly Society’s Hall, and numerous residential houses, were destroyed. In spite of the efforts made to stop it, the fire was only stopped by the sea. To relieve the distress occasioned by the fire, the Castries Fire Relief Fund was opened: the Imperial Treasury contributed $5,000 towards it: Colonial Governments, $6,147; Societies and private individuals, $6,033. Unhappily, many of the properties and merchants stocks destroyed by the fire were uninsured. Before long, however, the victims of the disaster started to rebuild----as the people of Castries had done several times before.

“A Catastrophe that has been termed “the greatest calamity to befall a Colony of its size and resources in so short of time” struck St. Lucia on the night of the 19-20th June, 1948: four-fifths of the capital were completely destroyed by fire. About 8 p.m. on Saturday, the 19th June, the alarm of a fire which had started in a tailor’s shop in the north-easterly part of Castries, was given. There was a strong breeze that night, fanning the flames in a south-easterly direction. This factor, coupled with others stated in the Report of the Commission of Enquiry in the Causes and Circumstances of the Fire, resulted in the conflagration getting completely out of control. Had it not been for the fire- fighting squad of the United States Air Force at the Beane Field, Vieux Fort, the flames would probably have spread back from the western end of Brazil Street, and gutted what still remained of the town.

‘All the commercial section of Castries was destroyed, and the following Government Buildings were lost: Administration, Customs, Treasury, Audit, Post Office, Executive Architect, Education, Printery, Supreme Court and Magistrate’s Court, Registry, Labour and Controller of Supplies. The Castries Town Board offices were gutted, so were the Carneigie Library with its excellent reference section; Barclays Bank (D. C. & O.); Cable & Wireless (West Indies) Ltd; and the Voice Publishing Co. All stores and their contents, apart from a few small shops on the outskirts of the town were destroyed: commercial life was practically reduced to a standstill for a week. The value of property destroyed files, records and archives, to those of Government as well as to those of firms and individuals. Amongst the latter, Mr. Tom Ferguson lost an important collection of historic documents.

“Providentially, the electric power station and telephone exchanges escaped damage, as also did the buildings of Police, Agricultural, Public Works and Medical Departments. St. Joseph’s Convent, St. Mary’s College, the Presbytery and the Church of the Immaculate Conception, all in the path of the fire, were saved thanks to strenuous efforts. Very happily, no large school buildings were destroyed. Although the Post Office was destroyed, all letters and stamps and much material were saved.

“There was no loss of life in the fire, but 809 families, comprising a total of 2,293 persons, were rendered homeless. That obviously meant a considerable problem for all concerned. In gratitude it must be said that the neighbouring islands immediately responded to the call for aid that was at once flashed to the outside world. Red Cross and Police detachments from Trinidad, Grenada and St. Vincent were soon on the scene of the disaster. H. M. S. Sparrow also promptly arrived. Thanks to the help received from outside, widespread looting was checked and security measures were put into effect. Incidentally, much as the morale of the victims of the fire has won praise, it cannot be denied that the attitude of the crowd at the time of the catastrophe was far from edifying.

‘The day after the fire, Government took measures for the relief of distress. Emergency relief committees were set up to deal with the distribution of food, clothing, household effects and comforts. Temporary housing was provided by utilizing the old military barracks and buildings at Vigie and Morne Fortune. With the ruins of the town still smouldering, emergency repairs to electric power lines were undertaken, the water supply system was re-started, and a sub-exchange for telephone communications was installed on the northern outskirts.

“On the 23rd June, 1948, the Legislative Council enacted the Emergency Power (Castries) Fire Bill. This Ordinance conferred on the Governor-in-Council power to maintain public order, supplies and services essential to the life of the community, to take possession or control of property or undertakings, regulate building operations and materials and suspend the obligations of banks. In Fact, a proclamation was issued declaring a moratorium of payments by the banks for seven days. The contents of the safe deposit at the bank, by the way, were intact.

“During the days that followed the fire, steamers, motor-vessels, sailing-craft and planes brought a steady and speedy flow of relief cargoes to Castries. The neighbouring colonies were particularly generous. His Majesty’s Government contributed $168,000 as a free grant to relieve immediate distress. In London, the West India Committee started a public subscription in favour of the victims of the fire. Shortly after the catastrophe, His Excellency the Acting Governor of the Windward Islands and His Grace the Archbishop of Port-of Spain paid visits to the stricken people of Castries.

“On the 28th June, 1948, the Governor appointed a Commission of Enquiry into the Causes and Circumstance of the fire. His Honor Mr. Justice A. V. Crane, LL.B., conducted a public enquiry, and published his Report on the 24th July following. He found that the reasons for the spread of the fire to the greater part of the town were:

(a) the want of training, practice in knowledge and experience of fire-fighting on the part of the Brigade personnel from the head downwards;

(b) the complete absence of organization and discipline of the Brigade personnel;

(c) the failure of the Brigade personnel to employ all its available water power at the earliest stage of the fire, and later to concentrate on extinguishing the fire when it reached Corporation street;

(d) the inadequacy of the existing equipment for putting out a large fire, and

(e) the absence of sufficient water pressure from the Town Board mains.

“Up to the end of the year 1948, the sum of $446,140 was received as contributions to the Relief Fund. Before the end of the year, moreover, the Administrator was able to announce: “We have received the heartening statement that his Majesty’s Government is prepared to grant substantial aid towards the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Castries”. The substantial aid in question eventually proved to be a generous grant of $1,025,000, but the grant was conditional upon the maximum contribution being made from St. Lucia’s resources”.

In July 1948 an enquiry was held into the St. Lucia Police Fore by Brigadier A. S. Mavrogordato, Commissioner of Police, Trinidad and as a result of one his recommendation it was agreed that the erection of the new fire and police station should be on site at the eastern end of the Northern Wharf. Subsequently, several reports during the past ten years by Major Cox, Senior Fire Officer, Trinidad, resulted in the ordering of much equipment for the use of the Fire Brigade rendering it one of the most modern and efficient fire- fighting units in the Eastern Caribbean, at the present day.

 

 

THE FUTURE

The foregoing chapters are then, in brief, the story of the Castries Town Council during the past seventy-six years and the story also of the Municipal Institutions that preceded its establishment in 1890. Without intentionally trying to make it so it is also, perhaps, the story of the town of Castries. The two stories cannot be dissociated.

The Council has often been the butt of much criticism in the course of its history. This was to be expected. No form of political development is ever free from suffering and strife at its inception and none above criticism and even hostility in the course of its life; but taken all in all, the development of Castries during the past three quarters of a century is a clear indication that by and large the system of democratic representation has served the citizens well.

The year 1967 is to be a year of constitutional change for the Council as well as for the Island as a whole, the former becoming a City Council while the latter becomes a State in association with Britain. The scope of the duties of the latter will be increased, while that of the former decrease. Two of the most important public utilities of our age, water and electricity, will have been removed from the control of the Council. It will nevertheless still have many important responsibilities in spheres that still require a great deal to be done and so I ask----- What of the future?

The Council must aim to maintain and enhance the well- earned reputation of the city for its cleanliness. A bit of observation coupled with a little discipline and intelligent imagination can rid our city of its few remaining areas of unsightly refuse, solve the current problem of garbage disposal and make the City almost free of flies and rats.

With a growing standard of living in the community the need for more parking space for motor vehicles in and around Castries is already a major problem and is daily becoming more acute.

The provision of low cost municipal housing and the extension of the sewage scheme to serve greater Castries are matters of high priority.

With fewer duties to carry out it should be possible to devote more attention to the age old problem of flooding on the city after even moderate rainfall. Where their predecessors failed, modern equipment and new engineering methods should come to the assistance of our City Fathers of the future.

Besides the day to day problems of repairs to streets and sidewalks and the flushing of drains, the continuation of the canalization of the Castries river in the interests of health and to prevent erosion is a desirable and necessary undertaking.

These are but a few of the matters to which our future City Councillors could profitably devote their attention either within the ambit of the Council itself or in conjuction with the Island Government.

The fact is that the new City Council will continue to have in large measure the future destiny of the citizens of Castries in its hands, and by its proper and progressive conduct of affairs can help to make the lives of the inhabitants happier and the city a brighter place in which to live and work.

No political institution that is based on the will or personality of one individual can function progressively and enduringly however out-standing that individual may be. The democratic constitution of the Board has in the past ensured that progress has been achieved by free discussion and by the sifting of conflicting ideas. In spite of many shortcomings the Board can look back with pride on a glorious past.

Let us hope that the greater status granted to our Council in 1967 will carry the beacon of democracy to further heights. May the lives and actions of the men who have gone before remind this generation that it too can leave its hallmark of quality on out Municapal scene. It is fitting therefore to conclude with this prayer:

“God give us men. The time demands

Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and willing hands;

Men whom the lust of office does not kill,

Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;

Men whom possess opinions and a will;

Men who have honor; men who will not lie;

Men who can stand before a demagogue

And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking;

Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog

In public duty and in private thinking!”