The first that the country at large knew of the plan to demolish the old sugar mills at Usine Ste Madeleine and Brechin Castle was an outcry of unfairness from the TT Scrap Iron Dealers Association. Members claimed they were by-passed in the bidding process for removal of the valuable old metal structures.
The dwindling importance of sugar to the economy reached its nadir with the closure of first Brechin Castle in 2003, then Usine Ste Madeleine in 2006, bringing a formal end to large-scale processing of sugar cane in Trinidad. Last week, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat sought to explain that the preservation of sugar history and the demolition of the sugar factories were separate issues.
In the current plan, the Sevilla Sugar Museum at Brechin Castle, a refurbished manager’s residence opened in 2015, is the site to be developed for future historical contemplation of the country's history with sugar production. Key artefacts recovered from the sugar factories, presumably restored and properly placed in context, will be added to the new museum.
The 2016 plan for the sugar museum included development of the four large ponds, plans to construct a 100-room hotel and the expansion of an existing nine-hole golf course into a full 18-hole attraction. It’s a plan that’s been considered since 2003, when a community group in Couva/California made an open call for the establishment of a Sugar and Energy Museum, Science Centre and Heritage Park.
At least one of the reasons for the project has aged out, the hope that such a project would provide employment and a financial focus for the villages that existed to service the sugar industry, making use of elderly workers with first-hand knowledge of cultivation and plant processes.
Those plans were overwhelmed by the fractious nature of the closure and the scrappy handling of land disbursements and financing to the former workers. The loss of the old factory sites is lamentable, but blame for the decision to remove them cannot only be placed on the current administration.
After the closure of the facilities, they were left to rot, exposed to the elements and rusting away in clear public view. Eventually, visitors to the abandoned sites were dramatically limited because the deterioration had created a health hazard where a nation's history once lived.
The time to turn even one of these factories into a historical site was immediately after closure but that didn't happen. A sensible and properly organised sugar museum may be all that we can hope for to emerge from those plans for the sites. The rest, regrettably, is now picturesque but dangerous scrap metal and concrete.