Nostalgia 561 – Saga and Romance of the ‘Sea Wall’

Nostalgia 561 – Saga and Romance of the ‘Sea Wall’

Ask any Guyanese, at home or abroad, to name the first five ‘things Guyanese’ that comes readily to mind, and they often reply – Kaieteur Falls – Stabroek Market – St George’s – Public Buildings – Town Hall – and sometimes, Jonestown. Can you imagine they always oversight our Sea Wall – which actually saves the capital city of Georgetown from being a ‘Venice’, and our Coastline languishing as another ‘lost Continent of Atlantis’. This Nostalgia seeks to rectify this situation, and record the Saga and Romance of our ‘ubiquitous’ Sea Wall.

The Guyana Coastline stretching 425 kilometres from Venezuela to Suriname is approx 2 metres below high water, and its defence from the threatening Atlantic Seas has been a battle since the Dutch attempted to empolder the Coastline, in the seventeenth century for agriculture etc. The British on takeover 1814 continued this task in spite of governmental bickering – shortage of funds etc, and the perennial challenges continue to today.

Early history records that Kerfield Village and Sandy Point were washed away 1792, and major flooding breaches occurred subsequently at Enmore 1955, Buxton 1959 – Bladen Hall 1961, and most recently 2005 on the E. C. Dem. Mahaicony to G’town.  

Feb, 1855 the spring tide rose to a height unknown for the previous fifty years, inundating the Kingston ward – flooding as far as Pln. Ogle. The flood swamped the Railway embankment – salted the head of Lamaha Canal. Camp House off the Round House Fort had to be dismantled. The building of the Sea Wall commenced that year, and the plaque off the Round House indicates that the first section from Fort Groyne to the Round House was completed by 1860.

Deadly duels by sword and pistols plus horse racing were staged on the beach between Camp St and Kitty in the early nineteenth Century. Gov General Sir Benjamin D’urban granted the racing fans the tract and at Durban Park, the first Race Meeting was held there November 1829.

The Governor’s Pond at King’s Ground, was dug to provide dirt for a continued embankment to the Bandstand area and by 1872 the Sea Wall had reached Kitty. The Bandstand was built 1903 as a Memorial to Queen Victoria, with the small hut Koh-i-noor opposite, at the same time. This hut, has now been demolished, because of vagrants occupancy.

By April 1882 the Sea Wall had reached as far as Unity, E. C., while other coastline areas were protected by mangrove – courida and a grid of sluices – kokers
earth dams, and jetties. The challenge has been the continuous mudflats forming along the coastline from the outflow of the Amazon, Orinoco, Essequibo etc ( referred to as accretion.) Heavy boulders – concrete walls and jetties protruding seaward and later ‘rip rap’ defence technique, helped our constant battle to ‘defend our foreshore. Today’s the Mangrove replanting, initiated by Annette Arjoon, and the Mangrove Action Committee is a top priority. Ya think it easy!

The romance of the Sea Wall has been truly reflective of our maturation in Georgetown, these last 7 decades. During the War Years of the Forties – the Sea Wall was our haven, for small boys escapades – skulking hokey from public school – skinny dipping – catching crabs, four-eyes fish, and birds on the foreshore. A big ‘chapta’ thrill was standing seaward at the end of the slippery jetties with the raging Atlantic attempting to wash you overboard

By teen age, the sand flat, off Camp St was our ‘Lords’ where daily cricket duels, weaned many National Cricket Stars, including Charlie Stayers – Pat Legall and Colin Croft etc. Thousands gathered at Easter to fly Kites on the Seawall coastline, relishing delightful family picnics – body building and fashion contests.
NB. It is a fallacy that our flying of kites at Easter is reverent homage to the ascension of Christ on Easter Monday. Kite Flying was a tradition in China 2000 years before AD.

The Band Stand was a major attraction, especially after Bandmaster Ken De Abreu broadened the repertoire of the local Police Band – which emerged from the our previous Militia Band 1957, and began to play popular folk, calypso, reggae, and jazz. The public Saturday Afternoon Concerts were a delightful treat to the citizenry. Mornings exercises and evening strollings, enjoying our fresh sea breeze was a Limacol delight, for young and old.

Daily, several Heads of the Govt Depts and Commercial Houses plus Know-it-all citizens would meet at the benches off the Bandstand to ‘debate how the ‘country’ could be successfully governed. I referred to them then, as ‘the Poke-a-hole’ in the Sea Wall Fresh Air Party, now extinct and replaced today by erudite ‘email letters to newspapers’ editors’. Alya remember the Keyholt wreck outside the Demerara Harbour.

By adulthood as hormones raged, the Sea Wall was a romantic trysting place – a public bedroom – a private parking promenade for lovers. During the Banlon Years of the Seventies, ‘Choke and Rob’ reared its ugly head, in our once peaceful society, and the Sea Wall become less popular since then as a local oasis. Todays’ Sea Wall Sunday Lime opposite the Subryanville residences – east of the former D’Aguiar’s and later Russian Embassy Bend is the popular attraction.

The Kitty Sea Wall Hut was the venue of their annual May Fair on the last Saturday of May yesteryear. Today, that site is the La Chalet.

Must mention here the Adamson Bend scandal, July 12, 1945 when a sensational murder took place at the Bend, opposite the former entrance of St Stanislaus Ground to the Sea Wall  48-year-old James Adamson, Class I Customs Clerk, a patient at the G’town Hospital had a recuperating tryst with a nurse at this bend – previously called ‘Dixie’ – when they were attacked by a cutlass wielding vagrant. Adamson died shortly after– Hilton Dhoney, a labourer was charged but acquitted in a sensational trial that launched a young J O F Haynes, to an illustrious legal career.
Refer Hammie Green’s Anthology of G’town for fuller details of this ‘nylon.

Early fifties, the Carib Hotel was our mecca for dancing under their starry roof, while the Bel Air Hotel, a half mile westward was a popular Oasis where the Penumbrians, A Civil Servant Club held their debut dance, 1954.

Mayor Lionel Luckhoo, built the Luckhoo Pool early sixties at the Water St end to the Sea Wall where thousand enjoyed aquatic sports etc. A few years later due to subsiding of the foundation, the pool was abandoned. Pegasus built at the site of Governor’s Pond opened in 1969. The Umana Yana was built by the Wai-Wai tribe as a VIP Lounge to accommodate Guests of the Non-Aligned Conference 1973. Bookers Staff Sports Club came on stream early fifties after Bookers Universal was rebuilt following the great fire 1945, and opened 1951.

Carifesta Ave was built on Kelly’s Palprey Dam, which was our secondary sea defence for North G’town from Camp St to Vlissengen Road.

Many of the Guyanese diaspora reading this will reminisce their wonderful moments ‘basking on the Sea Wall. Dr Ian McDonald recalls attending the 100 years Anniversary Dance of G’town Cricket Club at the Carib Hotel 1958 and the champion BG Brandon Trophy Tennis team training under McDonald Bailey at 5am on the Sea Wall 1957.

A recent film documentary on the Sea Wall was presented at the Cannes Film Festival May 2011. The Saga and Romance of the Sea Wall lives on. Ya think it easy!

For more Nostalgias refer to Godfrey’s Nostalgias – Golden Memories of Guyana 1940 t0 1980 available at Austin’s Bookstore locally or check out Godfrey Chin at Google or Yahoo.

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