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The East Dry River, Birthplace of legends, stories

Published: 
Sunday, March 3, 2013
The East Dry River circa 1900, before its bed was paved. Children can be seen playing in the stream, while severe erosion cut into the left bank.

In 1757, Don Pedro de la Moneda, Governor of Trinidad, moved his official residence from the capital of San Jose de Oruna (St  Joseph) to Puerto de los Hispanioles (Port-of-Spain), since the latter was rapidly developing as a commercial town and the former had not even a proper house to suit the dignity of his office. With the coming of Don Jose Maria Chacon as Governor of the island, Port-of-Spain was confirmed as the capital in 1784. 

 

One persistent drawback to developing the town was the Rio Tragarete, or Rio Santa Ana (St Ann’s River), which flowed from its source in the upper reaches of Fondes Amandes straight through the town and flooded it every rainy season. To aid urban development, it was decided to divert the river to a new course which ran easterly just below the Laventille hills and to the sea, at a point even then used as a dump and known by the recently arrived French settlers (invited to the island under the Cedula de Poblacion in 1783) as the La Basse. 

 

This monumental project took four and a half years, ending in 1787. Burgesses of the town who were slaveowners were required either to contribute funding to the Illustrious Cabildo (Town Council until 1840) or else contribute the labour of their slaves on a fixed basis, with the latter being fed by the Cabildo for the time of service. 

 

A huge chasm was dug from a point which later became known as Belmont and followed a line determined by Chacon. Afterwards the Rio Santa Ana was diverted to its new bed and the old one was gradually filled in and turned into prime real estate. Chacon Street in Port-of-Spain marks the site of the old channel. 

 

Over the years, the stream became known as the Dry River (East Dry River in the 1940s, after the paving of the Maraval River) and was a natural boundary between the city and the eastern front. Rose Hill Estate, at the end of Queen Street, was the natural landmark for many years, with its ornate great house.

 

The Dry River became the birthplace of legends and stories. It became a social space. Children played among the roots of trees exposed by the erosion of the banks, women did laundry in its upper reaches, where the water was relatively clean, until filth was poured in, as Trinidadians are wont to do. This latter habit made the river into a noxious sewer and health hazard.

 

The issue of sanitation attracted the attention of the Town Council for many decades but it was not until 1930 that the formidable Capt AA Cipriani, who held the post of mayor, turned the sod for the commencement of the paving of the bed of the river. This was not a moment too soon, since the banks were eroding rapidly and threatening properties as well as Piccadilly Street, which ran alongside its course. The work was completed in 1934 and holds strong today.