“They can come with whatever they want—but young Rowley will not disappear.”
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Expelled panman’s happy days in town
As the T&T Guardian continues its talks with some of the people of Port-of-Spain, in recognition of the city’s 100th anniversary celebrated last month. This week we feature pan enthusiast Ernest Ferreira, who lived most of his life on Scott-Bushe Street. He shares his story about growing up in town and his wish for the city.
I am Ernest Ferreira. I am 79, the father of three boys and two grandchildren and I have been in the business of shipping and marketing most of my adult life. I now live in Maraval but I was born and raised in the city of Port-of-Spain. The house I lived in is still there and has now been converted into my office.
My father and mother, both descendants of Portuguese immigrants, purchased a house from store owner Charles Kirpalani, at number three Scott-Bushe Street in the late 1930s. My grandfather was the owner of SSN Pereria Confectionery at 69 Prince Street in Port-of-Spain. The confectionery was sold and is now known as KC Candy.
Growing up in Port-of-Spain for me were the wonder years. I can remember always enjoying waking up to the sounds of the tram cars at 5 am. Those tram cars would come from St Ann’s, go through Belmont and into Port-of-Spain. I can also remember the trolly buses. We used to call them the silent murderers in those days because you could never hear them coming.
Scott-Bushe Street was always very quiet. Mostly middle-class families lived there and if you wanted some action you had to go into the heart of the city like Charlotte Street and Marine Square, now Independence Square.
I can recall as a young boy going to the neighbour’s house to listen to my favourite shows on Rediffusion, a business which distributed radio and TV signals through wired relay networks. In those days not many people had television and my father could not afford one. So my siblings and I would go to the neighbour’s house to listen to popular shows like Second Spring, Journey into Space and my personal favourite, Mandrake the Magician. I have a vivid recollection of 1930s and 40s the pan revolution era, which I had found was so interesting. I attended St Mary’s College but was expelled in form three for my involvement in pan. In those days to be involved in pan you were seen as a roughneck and thug and it was unheard of to see a so-called “white boy” beating pan or even showing an interest in it. Eventually I founded the Dixieland Steel Orchestra. But the story of my involvement in pan is a whole other story in itself. So I will leave that for another time.
But I would say going to Port-of-Spain was always exciting. People would leave their homes just to go window shopping on Frederick Street. I don’t suppose they still do that. I remember after school, some of us would go downtown where the aloo pie, press (sno cone) and coconut vendors were, to buy especially press for a penny. And we used to pay four cents for a coconut water. Aloo pie was also a penny. Those were the days.
Port-of-Spain was always a very lively place, but it was also always safe. The most bacchanal it ever had in those times were the steelband clashes. Other than that it was a safe place to go. I grew up there and I cannot even recall a single time my father or any neighbour had to call the police for anything.
The young people in those days were very focused and respectable. It always had the one or two mischievous ones, but what they did was nothing much to fuss about.
A typical teenager’s lime was going to the Queen’s Park Savannah after school to hang out. Those of us who lived in town would go home, take a bath and head up to the Savannah. Most times we would give the girls fatigue when they passed, but nothing rude or disrespectful. In those days you could not do that because if your parents found out, you would get an unimaginable cut tail.
I remember Christmas time in the city was a joy. Everybody shopping, boys and girls on roller skates. The stores adorned with Christmas decorations and carols playing. Charlotte Street was the liming spot for the holidays. It was where you got your fill of the funny characters who would be telling jokes or stories on the street.
The city has changed quite a lot. Our children today don’t know of Donkey City. That was where cart and donkey owners would assemble to provide transportation for commuters. It was located at London Street on Wrightson Road where the Radisson Hotel is now. Then there was the Goat’s Manna in the spot where the Central Bank is. And the Caricom Jetty is where live cattle from Venezuela were brought in and transported to the Port-of-Spain abattoir to be slaughtered.
Victoria Square was a hub for young people to meet and socialise. Now that square and all the other squares have been left for ruin. You would think they were not historic landmarks. What was once a beautiful Port-of-Spain is now the place many flee from and avoid for fear of gang wars and other criminal activity.
I certainly wish I could see a revival of Port-of-Spain, starting with all the squares; Lord Harris, Victoria and Woodford Square. These squares have so much history attached to them. It would be nice if our young people and tourists could go into these squares and see stories of this land being told through murals or even theatrical plays. We can tell stories of our politicians, sportsmen and women, academic enthusiasts, and other great people of our nation who have contributed to the development of T&T.
I have always thought Victoria Square should be the place where we showcase this country’s indigenous flowers and plants. Maybe it can be renamed Hibiscus Park. From the lighthouse to the Breakfast Shed, the wall of that entire stretch should be filled with murals.
Port-of-Spain is indeed in need of a vast facelift. When we got our independence in 1962, things should have got better, but we are not seeing that today. Something is absolutely wrong when a nation allows its history to die and that is what has been happening to Port-of-Spain. It is fast becoming a dying city.