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‘The good old days’


The First Bus to the Leeward; the first idea of the Cross country Road

While looking through some old notes recently, I came across two pieces in which I think readers will be interested, although for different reasons. The first is an account of the journey of the first bus to have been driven to the Leeward side of the island as far as Chateaubelair-FitzHughes. It was, of course, a red-letter day and represented the possibility of a different option for those persons who had to travel to Kingstown by boat, crossing the ‘dread’ Old Woman’s Point, or who had to walk the journey.{{more}} This was just sixty two years ago, and there might still be a few people around who will remember this grand occasion. We have certainly come a long way. This, of course, was in colonial times, and was a mere two years after the riots of 1935, which came about because of colonial neglect.

The other has to do with the issue of the Cross Country Road when it was, apparently, first raised in the 1940s. The ‘Cross Country Road’ is still on our agenda, and certainly some of the same arguments are at play today. The main objective then was to use the area for cultivation. One of the main objections at that time was to the possible damage to the water supplies. The same applies even more today. Cost of the project, including maintenance cost, it should be noted, was highlighted as a prohibiting factor.

“First Bus to Reach Chateaubelair”

“Messrs Agard and Gabriel drive Chervolet (sic) Bus V146 Over Dangerous Roads”-

Mr. Arnott Agard accompanied and assisted by motor mechanic George Gabriel, created a precedence by driving a long passenger bus to Fitz Hughes over 26 miles of dangerous roads on Thursday last, 27th instant. The courage and driving skills demanded to perform this feat may be judged by the fact that it is still considered no ordinary feat for small cars to make the trip and persons are still diffident to make the trip in cars unless they are assured of the skill and steadiness of the drivers.

Leaving Kingstown at 6 am the small party, including the two drivers, reached Barrouallie in quick time.

From Barrouallie onwards the village inhabitants waved and cheered the bus as it passed negotiating some very dangerous corners; – here and there, reversing and going forwards (sic) to take corners comfortably with very steady hands the bus was held on some of the narrow roads, when one slight twist of the wheel might have meant a drop of over 100 feet! Everywhere a great sensation was created and the astonished inhabitants presented the drivers with boquets (sic) and other gifts in appreciation of their daring feat. The party reached Chateaubelair at 11:30 am, after spending an hour at Troumaca.

Leaving Chateaubelair at 2 pm they made a short visit to Rose Hall, receiving there the same ovation. They returned to Kingstown at 7 pm after stopping at the various towns on the way up.

In an interview with a staff reporter of the Times, Mr. Agard said that he had always visualised the possibility of buses plying along the leeward coast as they do on the Windward Coast and felt that with some improvement on the most dangerous corners and some of the narrow roads, there is no reason why in the near future easy and quick means of transport and communication should not be made possible on the Leeward Coast. This he felt would assist greatly in making the inhabitants of that coast as thriving as the people on the windward coast.

We congratulate the men on their bravery, skill and foresight, hoping that their effort will create real stir in Government circles to make it possible for buses to ply regularly on the Leeward Coast as they do on the Windward side of the island.” (The Times newspaper, Saturday, May 29, 1937)

The 1940 Question of a Cross Country Road (Administrator’s Speech to the Legislative council, December 23, 1940)

“…As members are aware, a reconnaissance survey was carried out by the Crown Surveyor and the Agricultural Superintendent with a view to examining the question of constructing a road across the island from Cumberland to Three Rivers and so opening up an additional area for cultivation. This survey was undertaken as a result of a report made by Mr. J.B Kernahan in 1904 in which he had referred to areas in this district which were apparently suitable for cultivation.

The result of the present survey has been unfavourable to this proposal for the reasons which are stated in the report. The officers who carried out the survey have advised against any attempt to cultivate any part of the main valley, as they are of the opinion that it should be left as a forest reserve. Cultivation would lead to serious damage to the water supplies in the area with no compensating gain to the economy of the colony, for the land would soon become a liability to the owners or tenants. The only type of agriculture likely to be successful would be one which maintained a protective cover to the soil from year to year- e.g., cocoa and allied crops.

The officers also reported that a road could be built connecting the Windward and the Leeward side of the island through this valley, but at a great cost, and with considerable difficulty. Not only would the cost of construction be high, but the cost of maintenance would be high also. It seems, therefore, that this project, in which we were all naturally interested, must be put aside.” (my emphasis)

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.