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Slow, steady progress in preserving country’s heritage

Published: 
Saturday, August 5, 2017
St John's London Baptist Church, Pembroke Street, Port-of-Spain. (above) Anthropologist Natalia Sanchez and (below) National Trust of T&T CEO Valerie Taylor, former principal of Bishop Anstey High School.

Colombia native Natalia Sanchez is currently in Trinidad working alongside the executive and members of the National Trust of T&T determined to raise awareness of the restoration and preservation of local heritage sites and buildings.

Sanchez, who did her undergrad degree in archaeology at Cornell University in New York and her Masters in Historic Preservation from the School of the Arts, Institute of Chicago, has been smitten by the warmth of nationals, “and the embracing of the diverse cultures which exist in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Come Wednesday, August 9, Sanchez, currently an intern with the US International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), will be the featured speaker when the National Trust holds a presentation on the Woodford Square Heritage District, at the Old Fire Station Building, Nalis, corner Hart and Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain, at 5.30 pm.

The National Trust has been in existence since 1991, through an act of Parliament with a mandate to preserve the built and natural heritage of T&T. National Trust CEO Valerie Taylor said: “One of our most important mandates is to list properties of interest and the Woodford Square Heritage District is an area with a high concentration of historical and significant buildings. What Sanchez has done is to investigate three in the nation’s capital.”

On her first visit to Trinidad, arriving on June 4, Sanchez added: “I will have investigated the architectural and historical significance of the buildings which are Sacred Heart RC Church, St John’s London Baptist Church on Pembroke Street, and the Trinidad Building and Loan Association, at the corner of Queen and Chacon Streets. My presentation will include why these buildings are heritage sites in their own right, and why they should be considered to be part of the existing Woodford Square Heritage District.”

Taylor said: “The Woodford Square Heritage District is the only existing one in T&T. Other individual properties, like Stollmeyer’s Castle, Royal Victoria Institute, Carnegie Free Library in San Fernando and Fort George in Tobago, are listed heritage sites. The Red House, Police Headquarters, Trinity Cathedral, The Cabildo Building are among several sites that are a part of the Woodford Square Heritage District.”

The National Trust also has responsibility for Nelson Island, a quarantine and processing station for East Indian immigrants, and has done extensive work in restoring and popularising this island site to some of its former prestige. Taylor said: “When the National Trust initially visited this island, like the Five Islands, it was overgrown and, over the past two years, a strong and focused effort has been made to create a park-like ambience to reveal some of the ruins that had been hidden in the overgrowth.

“We have had tours, like taking school students to the island, as well as hold public tours and events. Three are now annual and they include Vintage Kaiso on Nelson Island, held during Calypso Month in October; Ponche de Creme and Parang which held in December; and, at Carnival time, we do a traditional Carnival on the island as well. These have been very successful.

“As we enter the third edition of these events we anticipate even larger crowds and wish to arrive at a maximum of 300 patrons, the limit for the water taxi which is used to transport visitors to Nelson Island.

“We would also like to restore Caledonia Island and currently, there is an Austrian university team that visited last January to do some archaeological work and will return in January 2018.”

Said Sanchez: “I admire the love that your citizens have for their own heritage and the thirst to know about their own history, be they natural and cultural. Aside from Nelson Island, which is an example of the multi cultural nature of the country, it is the place where East Indians first arrived. Interestingly, the buildings were constructed by former African slaves, occupied first by the British, then by the Americans during World War II, and then used as a holding site for Germans who were designated as ‘enemy aliens’. After that, labour leader Tubal Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler was incarcerated at Nelson Island, followed by the members of the Black Power movement in 1970.”

Speaking about her August 9 presentation, Sanchez said she hopes to be able to enlighten nationals about the history of the buildings that exist in the Woodford Square Heritage District. She added: “Secondly, I would like people to think of heritage more than mere individual sites and more as a historic landscape model that is able to provide social cohesion, sustainability and economic value to all.”

Taylor interjected: “The National Trust is very concerned about Port-of-Spain as the nation’s capital and a historic city. I would like to initiate several conversations going forward about its restoration and preservation of the many, many beautiful sites that remain, with the emphasis on ‘remain’ as so many of them have gone.”

Sanchez returns to the US on August 14.