Things that Matter: The urgency of saving our precious Heritage
“Short term economic gain wins over long term importance.” (Catherine Leonard, Secretary of the British National Trust)
“Preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.” (William Murtagh, First keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, USA)
Thank you, Randy Batson, for your splendid letter to the press on June 2nd: “Preserving our heritage sites”. As you said, after making the case logically and lucidly, “Heritage shapes our societies and can contribute substantially to future stability and economic development”. Amen. But are the church elders listening?
The Barbados National Trust has long recognised the importance of a Caribbean approach to heritage preservation and heritage tourism, because we ALL share in the rich Caribbean heritage. And we ALL need to urgently address our obvious assets and not waste them – our heritage – natural, built and cultural.
Last Sunday’s column addressed the launch, after 49 years, of our National Park in the Scotland District, and other natural heritage sites and open spaces. Unfortunately, while some aspects of our culture are widely celebrated and indulged (wukking up, followed by calypso and food in third place), the visual arts, drama and other fine arts are far behind. And our priceless built heritage remains a victim of post-colonial ambiguity and modern mythology that new is better and “we must destroy in order to build”.
Two years ago in May, the National Trust hosted the First Caribbean Conference of National Trusts and Preservation Societies. Some 14 Caribbean countries came, as well as the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, and speakers from Britain, Canada and the USA. Sponsorship came from Tourism Development Corporation (TDC), several companies and private donors. It was an extraordinary success. Sharing was intense and everyone left inspired.
Well, Miguel Pena – the new General Manager of the National Trust, Geoff Ramsey – architect, environmentalist and heritage tourism consultant, and I have just returned from a splendid Second Conference in Port of Spain. Trinidad and Tobago picked up the ball, and I can do no better than quote the Trinidad Guardian of May 31: ‘ “A resounding success” is how many of the 100 plus participants described the Second Caribbean Conference of National Trusts and Preservation Societies at the Hilton Hotel from May 19 to 21.
The conference was hosted by the group Citizens for Conservation in conjunction with the National Trust and ICOMOS-TT, and included presentations by persons from the private and public sectors of 15 different countries including the UK, Spain, the USA, Curaçao, Jamaica, Guyana, Martinique and Barbados as well as local presenters. They told stories of the triumphs they had experienced and challenges they faced in the area of built heritage preservation in their communities and shared advice and possible solutions to the problems that face preservationists around the world, such as inadequate financing, lack of government support and even climate change.
Participants were taken on bus tours of heritage sites in Port-of-Spain. Everyone left this fabulous conference recommitted to implementing strategies they learned in their own territories, and it was announced that Curacao would be hosting the Third Conference in November 2017.”
Citizens for Conservation have been the movers and shakers for heritage preservation in Trinidad, and the inspiration and energy behind it has been led by architect Rudylynn DeFour Roberts, with a strong and inspired team. Our hosts showed us the most amazing restoration projects in Port of Spain, as well as tragedies. (Their historic Library building is being restored as we speak!) On my 112 visits to Trinidad I’ve driven and walked around the Savanah hundreds of times, and gaped and gasped in awe at the Magnificent Seven mansions on the West side, and much else in the city – hundreds of buildings that are works of art, with only a few random “temples of the builder’s craft” loved and restored.
Well, on this occasion we saw the magnificently restored Queen’s Royal College and Stollmeyer Castle (Killarney) from a distance. Whitehall and Mille Fleur remain derelict, empty promises, while President’s House is either a tragedy or a scandal, depending on your political point of view. And the amazing Red House is an “off and on” project. But Rudylynn and her colleagues took us to see the restoration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which demonstrated immaculate conservation and restoration work of the highest standard – we were all simply “blown away”.
What was most instructive was the transfer of technology, with stained glass windows being restored ON SITE in Trinidad. Our All Saints Church’s wonderful windows had to be sent to Britain. This is a case of technology transfer in Trinidad, which we should learn from. For this reason, Geoff Ramsey attended a workshop on modern limestone use, so that our old coral limestone buildings can be properly restored, and not further damaged with concrete “repair”. With the restoration of Sam Lord’s Castle and Queen’s Park House finally planned, this is an urgent matter.
We have valuable treasures all around us, which we’re wasting and destroying. “Historic preservation does much more than preserve bricks and mortar. It recognises that our built heritage connects us with our past, and provides context for the places we occupy and the world we live in. It fuses art with craftsmanship, capacity for modern use with past energies, and progressive ideas for economic revitalisation.” (The words of Craig Potts, CEO of the Kentucky Heritage Council).
Urgent action is needed by the relevant authorities AND by the private sector and prosperous major businesses, who must not shirk their responsibility for sharing in the guarding of our heritage. The time for talk is over, and the pleas of old men like me in the National Trust, must be replaced by the action of younger, equally passionate people – AND the political powers.
Bouquet: To the charming and efficient staff in the BRA office, who expedited our land tax payments so quickly, graciously and with good humour – Congratulations!
(Professor Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website: profhenryfraser.com)