SAN FERNANDO has always distinguished itself as a leader and as it looks to sustainable development, it has embarked on a novel way of building its future by capitalising on its past. The idea is to bring commerce to the city through its rich history as a heritage tourism product.
For this initiative, the city and its mayor Junia Regrello has partnered with the San Fernando Heritage Trust (SFHT) to bring attention to historical sites and to preserve buildings still standing as a monument of strength although constructed in the 19th century.
“We have to look at sustainable development and every which way we can contribute to establish San Fernando as a viable option for opportunities and benefits,” Regrello said.
“It is our intention to create and develop identifiable San Fernando products and, as such, we will collaborate with NGOs and other organisations in our thrust towards sustainable development.”
San Fernando also partnered with Angostura to create a signature drink called San Fernando Mortar in the Pestle which Regrello hopes can gain prominence and be among the attractions in the city. His focus, however, is to restore heritage sites and educate people about their history – and earn revenue.
“Heritage sites have been languishing without any recognition or any understanding of who, what, why, where and when. I felt it was time we did something about that. We have a responsibility to properly establish the history of San Fernando. We go to foreign countries and we see how their historical past is used as a revenue earner. We have not done that and starting now, we are looking in that direction to see what revenues can be derived,” Regrello said.
Chair of the SFHT Michele D Celestine agreed.
“A true understanding of where we come from will nurture leaders of tomorrow, who will not ever feel the need to destroy... or be guilty of throwing out the baby with the bath water because their love of country will always point them in the direction of growth and prosperity for all. A love that comes from appreciating who we are as a people, for the good, the bad and the ugly of our shared history.”
On November 30, as San Fernando brought the curtains down on a month of celebrations of 30 years as a city, Regrello and Celestine launched the project for the installation of signage for Harris Promenade. Three signs were placed on the bandstand, outside of City Hall and Our Lady of Perpetual Help RC Church declaring them heritage sites.
“These buildings were erected after Lord Harris gave the land to the people of San Fernando and mandated that they build schools, churches, police stations and courthouses. We have those today, but few people know they have been around since the 19th century,” Celestine said.
“The installation of signage is, in fact, the third step in the journey of creating a heritage-based sector of our economy. These signs will create a visitor experience which we hope to enhance by restoring and reopening Carnegie Free Library with a focus on local authors. Also, the nun’s residence of the Sisters of Cluny as the Museum of San Fernando to house on loan the many private collections of photographs, artefacts and artwork of San Fernando residents.”
She said opening the buildings to the public will provide an opportunity to showcase the interior's architecture. “The nun’s residence, for instance, is secured by solid oak medieval style doors which were built by French monks and shipped to Trinidad.”
Tracing the journey of the plan, Celestine said the first step was the research done by one of its founding members, the late Angelo Bissessarsingh, which spared them hours of research at the National Archives and the perusal of volumes of history texts.
“Architect Geoffrey MacLean was able to edit and consult with other historians to ensure the finished product is accurate. Step two was the sensitising and winning over of the charming leaders of our city. Getting the mayor, councillors and aldermen to trust our vision and believe in the end result of this initiative has meant proposal writing and face to face meetings. At the end of the day, we are grateful that they too appreciate that this venture will both instil a sense of pride in the burgesses and attract valuable commerce through increased visitors.”
Prior to the installation, the trust also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the College of Science Technology and Applied Arts of TT (Costaat) and the TT Tour Guides Association. Through the MoU, Costaat is now able to offer six courses which are critical to establishing and developing the heritage preservation sector.
“Earlier this year, they actually started offering an accredited version of our tour guides course. Our tour guides are retired history teachers and senior managers in various industries, such as the cocoa, sugar and petroleum industries. They manage groups coming into this country who are interested in heritage tourism, because although it is a well-known global fact heritage tourism is the fastest growing sector of tourism in the world, it seems to be a best kept secret in TT where we have so much heritage to preserve.”
“Through the affiliation between Costaat and city trusts like ours, not only can graduates leave as accredited tour guides but courses in film-making, document preservation and a host of other deep learning experience will arise.”
Celestine also shared the mayor’s view that now San Fernando has set the pace, she expects other cities, towns and villages to follow suit.
“By identifying our national heritage assets, declaring historic districts and creating visitor experiences, we create a host of meaningful jobs that act as a deterrent to crime by providing career options for persons from all walks of life. “