Heritage and tourism: Defending Bermuda
Defending Bermuda in modern times has nothing to do with the military preparedness of the Bermuda Regiment or the importation of a British Army battalion and Royal Navy vessels, but all to do with the resuscitation of our tourism economy, a once vibrant industry cast off into a maelstrom of neglect by politicians of yore who revelled in the fast bucks of ‘Bermuda Inc.’, as some so named the new ‘pillar’ of the then economy. Instead of understanding that tourism and ‘International Business’ needed to be equal partners, the foundation twins of Bermuda’s economic future, they constantly compared and elevated the latter over the former, reducing thousands of Bermudians who worked in all facets of tourism to the status of second-class citizens. The result of their advocacy of International Business over Tourism has resulted in the closure of dozens of hotels, guests houses and B-and-Bs over the last 30 years, with resulting loss in livelihood for Bermudians, while at the same time reducing the number of restaurants and other facilities, largely supported by tourists, which were major amenities for visiting business people. Leadership and moral support for our fundamental trade became lacklustre: tourism was not defended but fell victim to the thousand cuts of the mantra that ‘tourism is dead’. Everyone who sang that out-of-tune song should be had up on Charges Against Heritage, for indeed the Visitor Trade has been one of the outstanding icons in the heritage panoply of this Island for over a century. Tourism is an integral part of our culture and heritage and ‘Proud to be a Bermudian’ meant not just singing a song, but that we exhibited to the world of visitors the best of ourselves and the best of our heritage, though the last was somewhat circumscribed as much of that heritage, in particular standing buildings, was taken for granted or ignored. Yet it is that very heritage which should be restored, reinvigorated and exploited for the rebirth of our Visitor Trade. It is that heritage that we should use, without selling it or our souls, to defend that foundation economy of the island and all its residents. In such a campaign against decades of neglect, the role of the island’s historic fortifications is reversed from repelling an enemy back into the sea, to defending the economy by being sites of great interest that attract and welcome foes of old to our coasts and shores. In that regard, we have ammunition aplenty in the surviving forts and the extraordinary collection of cannon and artillery to capture the interest of visitor and resident alike, so let’s check the gunpowder magazine and see what history has stored up for us and tourism. First, Bermuda and the visitor trade owe a major debt to the British military who took possession of coastal lands in the ‘national interest’ and to those families who were dispossessed, if somewhat compensated, of their properties so commandeered for defence purposes. Without that acquiring of such lands in the nineteenth century, none of the principal beaches on the South Shore would be accessible to the public. Now those lands and other military ones are part of the Island’s ‘National Parks’ and the natural heritage of Bermuda has those major assets in its arsenal, thanks to such military legacies. In the same trajectory of our bullet points, we should thankfully remember that before International Business of the present third kind, the Island’s international business of Tourism was partnered with international Military Business, for after the American Revolution, Bermuda received the lion’s share of defence spending in all of British America, with Canada to the north and the West Indies possessions to the south getting some leftovers. When the Brits ran out of cash, the Yankees took over in 1941 and ploughed countless millions into the place up until 1995, when all overseas military forces left Bermuda following the end of the Cold War: you see why one can still hate the Commies, not for wanting war with us, but stopping it by the dissolution of their empire. Secondly, Bermuda had more than 90 forts constructed on the Island in the 328 years between settlement in 1612 and the second year of the Second World War in 1940. A number of those monuments survive from the largest, the Keep at Dockyard, to the smallest like Whale Bay Fort of the 1700s. A few are formally utilised as heritage sites, but although UNESCO has designated all the fortifications in St George’s Parish as a part of Bermuda’s ‘World Heritage Site’, the majority repose in various states of un-restoration. A number of the forts are outstanding for their class and period on a worldwide scale, but some are happy, it appears, to let them simply fade away. Space does not allow for extensive mention of the significant remnants of the British military camps, or the fact that some American defence heritage here was summarily dispatched to oblivion. Thirdly, Bermuda possesses historic cannon and artillery in amplitude and one of the largest, a 9.2-inch Breech Loader, is shortly to be emplaced on the high ramparts by the Dockyard Gate, pointed southeasterly, perhaps sending a message to all interested visitors and those special type of workers deep in the City of Hamilton. Recently, a cannon dug up in Bermuda has been found to be one of only two surviving examples of a certain type of Charles I gun from the late 1630s. For such a small place, Bermuda has an outstanding collection of such weapons, which can help, for example, to attract and distract the men in the family, often difficult to keep on target (and in the shops) while on holiday. Fourthly, in the artwork of entities such as the Fay and Geoffrey Elliott Collection (Bermuda Archives), Bermuda possesses outstanding images of the island in previous centuries, much of which was painted by army and naval officers. Such portable military heritage joins with other collections, such as artifacts from the Boer War and from the service of Bermudians overseas in the wars of the last century, to memorabilia of the Bermuda Regiment. The heritage of this place is joined at the hip with the military history of the world from the discovery of Bermuda in 1505 until this very day, yet much of its material remains are largely a ‘wasting asset’ in the defence of our Visitor Trade. A few days ago, our Cayman Islands competitors in International Business declared that Bermuda was making itself obsolete by engaging with ‘Solvency II’. Whether they are right remains to be proved, but the fact is that we can be made obsolete on that battle front by the machinations of politicians overseas, beyond our control: when considering their re-election and popularity needs, few will give the slightest thought to a mere 50,000 persons clinging to an endangered economical model on a mid-Atlantic rock. The potential obsolescence of tourism, on the other hand, is entirely in our hands, regardless of what the gravediggers say. Through the use of heritage assets, such as the military ones left to us over four centuries, we can help to restore the Visitor Trade to good health. If we do not make use of those and other heritage assets across the board, Tourism in Bermuda will become obsolete, and so will most of us, because the island cannot live on the bread of International Business alone, despite what some pundits now preach from their multi-storied Towers of Babel. So please, oh naysayers, to paraphrase the Bible, ‘Do not come down and confuse our speech’.
Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Executive Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director[AT]bmm.bm or 704-5480.