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The Nelson Street I know
The Port-of-Spain Corporation recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and there were a series of events in June to commemorate this milestone. The T&T Guardian spoke to several people who have lived their lives in Port-of-Spain, and we will be featuring their stories over the coming weeks. We start with Cathyan Townsend who lived most of her life on Nelson Street.
My name is Cathyan Townsend, I am an IT professional and part-time lecturer.
I was born and raised in the city of Port-of-Spain, Nelson Street, between Duke and Prince Streets to be exact. I currently live in El Dorado now but I have never severed my ties to the Nelson Street Community. I still go there almost everyday. And I still have lifelong friends from my neighborhood on Nelson Street.
Growing up in Port-of-Spain was fun. There were a lot of children in my neighbourhood and we had a lot of fun together. There were no border lines.
We had friends from Duncan Street, Mango Rose, Lower Nelson Street and we visited each other regularly. During secondary school at St Francois Girls College in Belmont, I can recall my house would be the meeting point for my school friends.
When we went to school bazaars and other activities in the city, parents would drop my friends to my parents’ home and pick them back up when we returned. My school friends became the friends of those people that I was close to in the neighbourhood.
Living in Port-of-Spain, most of places that I needed to go were close by. Charlotte and Frederick Streets were a stone’s throw away for shopping (in earlier times there weren’t any malls and the city was the main area for shopping).
I can recall some of my fondest memories about growing up in Port-of-Spain were when my parents would take my sister, brothers and me, window shopping on some evenings—I think it would have been along Frederick Street.
I would have been just about ten then. I also remember going to a place called the Dairies on Phillips Street for ice-cream. Another fond memory and an activity that I still do, is going by T&TEC on Park Street corner to look at the Independence Day parade. It was a tradition for a lot of families in the neighbourhood.
Some of us still do it even though we cannot just “run out the road” to see it. There are so many more memories that I can relate but space and time would not permit.
It’s amazing just how much the city has changed. Though we lived in the heart of the city, going to town as we called it then, was not done every day, it was rather more like a treat.
I can remember stores like Woolworth where you just had to get an ice-cream, Glendennings and Stephens. These were big department stores on Frederick Street. Charlotte Street had smaller stores similar to some that are there now. Stores did not have air-conditioning.
There was no street vending on Charlotte Street in those days. Market goods were bought on George Street between Prince and Queen Streets.
I also remember going to Marine Sqaure (now called Independence Square) to visit friends at the apartments at the corner of Marine Square and Duncan Street. Those apartment buildings are still there.
Another beautiful memory about Port-of-Spain long ago, like in the 70s and 80s, it was pretty safe. The neighbourhood always had its issues but it was still safe.
I used to travel to school by myself from form two. There were no fears of the driver kidnapping you or bandits sticking up the passengers. As a teenager, when my school friends gathered at my home to attend activities in the city, we would normally walk to where we were going. We would return to my parents’ house by about 7 pm. We could have gone shopping without fear of having our purses snatched.
On Sundays, a number of us attended the Holy Trinity Cathedral. We walked there by ourselves and dressed in our gold jewellry to boot. There was no fear that someone would steal it from us. In our immediate neighbourhood we could go outside and play, safely.
I cannot think of an incident when one of us was hurt by some nefarious element from in or out of the community.
During school vacations we would play outside for hours on end. At dusk you would hear parents start calling us in one by one. They did not have to worry that we would be hurt in any way. We could safely cross what are now borderlines.
It is really difficult for those of us who were raised in Port-of-Spain who remember a once vibrant, beautiful and safe city to now see the reality of what it has become and not be saddened by that.
I have been doing as much as I could in my former community to bring back some virtue to it. Over the years I’ve worked with people from the community on various activities with the children.
One initiative was to get the children together on Saturday mornings and take them to the savannah to play under supervision.
The objective was to encourage them to play without quarreling and fighting and to help them to understand that even though they may disagree there are other ways to resolve issues.
When I was still a resident I would assist neighbours’ children with their homework, in particular those children who were preparing for the common entrance exam (SEA).
My parents instilled in me that a good education was necessary. That value about the importance of education has never left me and I try to help those that I can. I am also a part-time lecturer at COSTAATT.
Currently I continue to engage the young men in the community to encourage them to stay away from criminal activity. I try to stay close to a number of them and in my own way try to get positive messages to them. People in the community would often seek me out for advice and information on many matters. I respect them all and they show me the same.
Within recent times a police youth club was formed in the community. Two Fridays ago the children, led by Sgt Morris and other parents, had a peace march. We took the march across the borderlines.
I am normally called upon, and always make myself available, to assist people in the community with filling out forms, completing resumes and giving recommendations.
I am also the current secretary to the single steel pan band, City Sun Valley, located on upper Nelson Street. The band is managed by Gerard Mendez and Dane Gulston. The players are mostly children.
My desire is to see the city come alive again. Other than Charlotte Street and some parts of the Brian Lara Promenade after 6 pm, the city is lonely, almost dead.
I believe that the crime wave that has engulfed the city, in particular East Port-of-Spain, is a major contributor to this.
I would also like to see more control with street vending and a cleaner city, and more activities, such as those that have occurred for this 100 year anniversary of Port-of-Spain.
In the mean time I would continue tell them how the city used to be. I would use the city’s history to try to instill some pride in them and so encourage them to do the right thing.
I normally tell people in my Nelson Street neighbourhood that this is their home, their community, keep it clean and have some pride in their neighbourhood.
I always say that ghetto is not a place but a state of mind.