Nostalgia 372 – The Fabulous Fifties in Guyana – By Godfrey Chin

Nostalgia 372 – The Fabulous Fifties in Guyana – By Godfrey Chin

Updated in 2008 by the late Godfrey Chin 1937-2012

With Guyana celebrating it’s 42nd Anniversary of Independence, May 26 .. I share this Nostalgia as a ‘stimulant’ to these ‘topsy-turvy times’. Lets meet at LasLapLime, Toronto , Canada where my Pictorial Exhibition – of 1001 Guyana Delights – will be featured. Please introduce yourself. Ya think it easy!………GODc.

Nostalgia 372 – The Fabulous Fifties in Guyana.

Godfrey Chin Website Link

Godfrey Chin – “Nostalgias”

By Godfrey Chin

“It was the Best of Times”. My great Grandfather boasted this at the commencement of the last century, when for $1.50 he bought his family house rations for a week. Now at the dawn of this new Millennium, my three sons with their streaming high tech ‘Blackberry,’ relish their times as ‘the best.’

On the contrary – every generation looks upon their times ‘and wonder what the ‘world is coming to’. Yet every generation survives – for the next – to wring their hands in turn – a few decades later.  Mankind’s ingenuity always overcomes.

For me a Nostalgia Buff, I choose the Fabulous Fifties as the best of times in Guyana – these last hundred years. Isn’t it quite a coincidence that ‘this was the Centerfold Decade’ – a period when most of the Guyanese foremost Icons and Professionals today, were just completing their Public/Secondary education – and  everlasting footprints were already being ‘carved’.  

British Guiana, five years after the end of WWII, was on the upbeat upswing, as the world recovered from the devastation of the global conflagration.  At home our Water Street Shopping  Center devastated by the 1945 Bookers Fire, was rebuilt as the best laid out shopping center in the Caribbean, with the magnificent edifices of Bookers Universal / Fogarty’s / RACS & Museum / General Post Office and Sanbach Parker.

The Booker’s Fire, Feb 23rd, 1945 – resulted in the next decade of the best commercial Downtown Shopping Center, in the Caribbean

The citizens welcomed the decade ‘household proud’ when Pipe Water was introduced 1950 and stave Vats, plus the large public galvanized vats at St George’s roundabout, and Bel Air St, Albouystown were eliminated.

The T & HD Railway Terminal, north Water St was a hive of rail shipping and trans-shipping activities, emanating from the wharves and stellings behind the Municipal Abbatoir – a variety of essentials consigned to the entire coastline, and riverain areas.

From this juncture to the Stabroek Market southward – each lot – both sides of Water street was a thriving Business that reflected entrepreneurial growth.

Apart  from the major businesses Bookers – Sanbach – Fogarty’s – Bettencourt – Weiting & Richter – there were several thriving family enterprises including D. M. Fernandes, John Fernandes Shipping – Kirpalani’s – Acme – Majeed – Kawall – Saraka – Searchlight – Singer –  J P Santos – Psaila  – A H & L Kissoon – Beharry’s – Bata – C. A. Phillips and  Gajraj – Thani’s and Khouri’s. Sproston’s expanded their dry docking / shipping service to include Tractor & Motor Retailing, on Lombard St .

Must not forget Davson’s, Wereford’s, Seabra, Daljeet, Sue Yong – Chu’s and Seabra’s in New Amsterdam . As top calypsonian, John ‘Slingshot’ Drepaul always complains ‘ Guyana is not Georgetown alone’. Ya think it easy

Toolsie Persaud – Mazaharally – Nagasar Sawh – Willems Timber – expanded their logging forestry operations, with Kayman Sankar and De Roop Maraj excelling in rice production on the Essequibo Coast .

Smaller enterprises incl Semco – Rodrigues Ltd – Affonso’s – Hack’s – Pradasco – Lee’s – Sookhoo – Yong Hing – Kon Sue – Kwang Hing – Mekdeci’s, Foreman’s, Royal Woodworking, Sue-A-Quan, Bernard’s, Pestano, Sardinha,  and Oscar Green.

Popular bakeries included Tang’s – Harlequin – Mansell – Dictator and Graham. Drug Stores included Bookers – Tang’s – Bostwick – Cendrecourt – Carfitt’s –  Ramcharran’s – Green’s – Lachmansingh’s – Twin’s – Lachmansingh’s – Rayman’s – Piggott’s – Burrowes and Jaikarran’s. In Berbice there was Ganpatsingh’s in New Amsterdam , and Swambers at Rose Hall.

Sheila’s on America Street was then the ‘National’ for delicious Chinese Cuisine – while Brown Betty was the local Mel’s Diner! Alya remember National on Robb St in the Sixties opposite Dr Alli Shaw’s Farm Fresh. Hell when a flourishing Chinese Restaurant migrates – things really brown, and ‘autumn leaves falling’. Find them in Toronto today!

Incidentally Dr Alli Shaw built the first private Hospital at Brumell Place , and Croal St .  Prasad’s, William’s and Woodland ‘s came later.
The Fifties was however not all ‘hairy dhorey’. Major Political Crises included the Suspension of the Constitution 1953, and the ‘calamatious Peas Party Split 1955 that started ‘the Guyana Debacle’ – a regrettable chasm which divides the Nation even today. Adult Suffrage was introduced for the ’53 elections.  In 1950 the People’s Progressive Party – the first mass based political organization was formed. At the end of the Decade 1960 – a third Political Party – the United Force was founded.

When there was a ‘bombing’ in Port-of-Spain, T’dad around 1957 – I felt extremely safe that such an incident could never happen in my homeland. We slept with our doors open – and major crimes were ‘fowl thief’ and ‘raiding neighbour’s fruit trees’. Buxton was famous for their mangoes and big ‘bubby / backside binnies. Less than five years later – All Hell broke loose. There were more bombs in the mudland than on the French Coast at Normandy – D Day 6th June 1944. Ya think it easy!

The tenure of four Governors – Sir Charles Woolley – Sir Alfred Savage – Sir Patrick Renison, and Sir Francis Grey covered this decade.

Major Disaster of the Fifties was the Resaul Maraj Fire, Dec 1951. In May 1959, Atkinson Airport was destroyed by fire.

The small man during this decade could truly be a ‘big man or woman’.  Odo’s vision after Independence was ‘politically well intentioned’. But  a resulting  example would be today’s ‘every man for himself’ mini-bus morass of chaos and confusion, one of today’s several afflictions that needs to be excised.

Betty with her black pudding – Mrs Daniel’s Nook with patties and pastry – Ferraz with his peanut punch  – Singh with his ‘channa & nuts – Ashton the crab back king – Ransom’s parlour – DeCastro’s opposite and Shanta’s – all became  ‘household popular’.

Atkinson Field built by the the ‘Yankees’ ’42/43 were relinquished by the Fifties to permit commercial overseas flights landing there, and Panam’s amphibious landings at the Demerara River Mouth off the Rowing Club were eliminated. In 1955 the BG Airways bought out Art Williams facilitating hinterland air transportation to expand with airstrips in Lethem & Annai. Beef Livestock was henceforth flown into the coastline, and arduous cattle drives eliminated.

In the field of learning, Queen’s College moved in 1951 from Brickdam to a spanking new premises at Thomas Lands. Woolford Ave became a ‘corridor of Learning Institutions.’ Tech Institute was established.  Central High / Indian Education Trust / Gandhi Youth – The Trade Union Council and Georgetown Dramatic opened pavilions on this strip.

Carnegie Home School of Economics came on stream, and a new premises for the Blind to learn craftwork was built at St Phillips.
The nation’s literacy peaked with 3 dailies – Chronicle, Argosy, and Graphic plus a plethora of other publications including The Chronicle Christmas Annual with literary and photographic competitions. The public Free Library opened Branches in New Amsterdam 1953 and in McKenzie 1955. Bookstores included Argosy – Midget – SPCK – Fogarty’s – Bookers – Chasberth and Central High.

Believe it or not: In March 2008, there is only one recognized Bookshop – Austin ‘s on Church St in Georgetown . And we wonder ‘why things gone downhill, down deh – today!

The new Carib Hotel a stone’s throw outside Georgetown became the mecca for our Social dancing while the Bel Air Hotel – Mariner’s Club  – Bookers Staff Sports Club  – Legionnaires also became favorite spots. The Sports Clubs – Chinese – Portuguese – East Indians – GFC & GCC had annual seasonal and ethnic socials.

Must mention Frolic Hall – Rest Hall – Haley’s – Garland – Prospect Hall E. B. – Tipperary Hall – Profitt’s Place, Town Hall New Amsterdam Dance, the Community Center and ‘abandoned Basra ‘ at Bartica. Party and Fete was a social plus – a must – and our sporting pastime.

In the field of Sports – a drive along Thomas Road witnessed keen sport activities daily at well maintained manicured grounds including Eve Leary, YMCA – QC – BGCC – Chinese – Malteenoes – Transport – Post Office. Off the parallel Kelly Dam there was East Indians – CYO – Teachers – Scouts – St Stanislaus – Rifle Ranges and Northern Rangers.

Most of these grounds are now unkempt cow pasture with the national sport today ‘ a Sunday Night Lime on the Sea Wall’. Things so bad today ‘that a ‘moonlight Sea Wall public bedroom tryst – is ‘chapta’ Ya think it easy!

Public Police Band Concerts were a weekly feature in these times. The City’s Botanic and Promenade Gardens were floral havens – quiet spots to study and read – and commune with nature.

In the Fifties, Sunday was the last weekend opportunity to catch up on the prolific movie fare at the Cinemas, with the new Plaza 1951 – Globe 1953 – Strand Deluxe 1956.  While there was no threat from Television locally for the entertainment market – we relished the epic wide screen productions of DeMille’s Ten Commandments – Wyler’s Ben Hur and  Todd’s Around the World in Eighty Days.


Also read:

Tribute to Winfield Godfrey Chin (1937- 2012)

 By Major General (retd) Joseph G Singh

Godfrey Chin

Godfrey Chin

I am honored to have been invited to pay this Tribute to a man I was privileged to have as a friend for many years. Winfield Godfrey Chin was a man of many talents. I was fortunate to see and marvel at his creativity, to learn from tapping into his prodigious memory, to experience the genuine friendship he extended so unreservedly, and to benefit from his unselfishness and magnanimity.

I had the good fortune of collaborating with him on several exhibitions mounted to coincide with events and commemorative anniversaries and in researching events, people and places, to add to our knowledge of our history, to celebrate or culture and to point out new opportunities for the younger generations to explore. Our engagements were through phone calls, e-mails, clippings and face to face meetings.

[more – Tribute_to_Godfrey_Chin – MG Joe Singh]

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 03/24/2015 at 5:44 am

    Let me add to the 5th paragraph: Window Shopping on Water Street and along Regent Street at night in the 1950’s was safe, clean and a pleasant walk – it was a family affair; with parents and children out for an evening stroll. A pit stop at Bourda Market on the way home for some coconut water. Around 1955, for me it was a time of constant trips to the Base [Atkinson Field]; back then you had to get a pass and show it at the gate before being allowed to enter the Base to see friends and family depart. Starting with my Grandma, my Aunts, Uncles and cousins …. until it was eventually my turn.—a-memoir-1943-to-1946

    I was looking at the businesses and there is an omission in this Nostalgia by Godfrey; although, knowing the man – Ya Think it easy! He may have covered them in subsequent essays. Godfrey mentions Brown Betty in Chaper 14 – I remember the ice cream; but there also was Nifty’s Ice Cream. D’Aguiar Bros. and other soft drink bottlers.

    There is mention of Bookers Staff Sports Club – for those who have not visited Guyana lately, that is the location of the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry at High and Young Streets
    In 2007, Godfrey visited us in Vancouver – Nostalgia 361

  • Raymond Morrison  On 06/26/2019 at 11:07 pm

    fabulous Georgetown. I was part of the crew of a ship named Arakaka, owned by the famous Booker family, bringing general cargo to B.G. The return cargo was mostly rum spirit and sugar. I have fond memories of sipping lime rickies in the London Bar and the fun venue the Maricaibo bar/club. The ships football team played against a Bookers select team at their sports club. Oh happy days!!

    • Peter O'Donnell  On 10/18/2019 at 3:28 pm

      Hi Raymond, I too have memories of my times visiting Georgetown whilst a member of the crew on board the Arakaka & the Amakura,
      what an exiting place for a teenager to be going ashore in Georgetown, (Sept 59-Aprill 1960

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