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Bermuda heritage on parade

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“24th May is the Queen’s Birthday: if we don’t get a holiday, we’ll all run away” — Schoolchildren’s ditty.

Some years ago, the powers that be declared that the month of May should be designated as ‘Heritage Month’, with the major holiday date of the 24th to be ‘Bermuda Day’. In heritage terms, every day should be Bermuda Day, especially as regards our tourism economy, but now it seems the tourism authorities are catching up with the cultural ones, having declared that ‘cultural tourism’ is a major part of a new national plan for the visitor business. For perhaps a century, the 24th May commemorated the Queen’s Birthday, not of the reigning monarch, but of Her Majesty’s illustrious ancestor, Queen Victoria, Empress of India, etc., etc. When we were carefree children around the wilds of Hungry Bay, we all knew from the famous ditty that it was HM’s birthday and ‘if we don’t get a holiday, we’ll all run away’. Holiday or not, the monarchy is still on Bermuda’s parade and for tourism that is a good thing, for one of the best advertisements to the American market, lately not used to good effect perhaps, is that we are British.

By its nature, much of Bermuda’s built heritage is not only on parade on Bermuda Day, but every day (and night) of the year. In line with the 2013 theme for Heritage Month, as assigned by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, that heritage is full of colour and sights, with sounds being provided by birds by day and tree frogs by night. That is the parade that we should be marching in front of our visitors, potential and actual, making every day a heritage day for this Island. From shipwrecks, to coastal fortifications, to a historic ‘World Heritage’ town, to extraordinary domestic architecture, to the great dockyard in the west, this Island is blessed with valuable heritage assets that should be front, centre, and rear of any tourism parade, the audience of which, and the promoters thereof, needing to be reminded of who and what we really are. We are a unique cultural centre ‘in the eye of all trade’ in the North Atlantic, a combination of many different factors that make us Bermudian and therefore of appeal to the travellers of the wider world.

The Bermuda Day Parade is the biggest event of the Heritage Month and is organised by Louise Tannock of the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs. Other happenings of the Department took place earlier in the month with ‘St George’s in Bloom’, and the ‘Concert in the Keep’ at the National Museum in Dockyard. Finally, as Ms Tannock has written: ‘Bermuda Day captured it all in a parade of colours, spectacular sights and uplifting sounds, which created excitement and joy for all in attendance. Let us continue to find ways to celebrate our heritage throughout the year, so that we can help to build respect and love for our people and Bermuda itself. In so doing, the purpose for Heritage Month will be remembered and celebrated all year long.’

Following a tradition of many years ago when there was a spectacular showing of flowered floats for the ‘Easter Parade’, the Bermuda Day flotilla began at Bernard Park and progressed to Cedar Avenue, ending at the City Hall in Hamilton. Thousands were ‘embedded’ on the route, some have reserved places under canvas from the previous day. With the roar of many exhausts, the distinguished cadre of the Long Riders Club began the parade to the grand stand at the Flagpole on Front Street, where local dignitaries awaited their review. They were followed by floats interspersed with majorette corps, the Bermuda Regiment Band and other performing groups, many with a goodly compliment of very small children.

One of the floats was produced by the Bermuda Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and acknowledged the sorority’s rich 100-year legacy of Sisterhood, Scholarship and Service. According to sister Sarine Babb: ‘Noting this year’s parade theme, entitled the Colors, Sights and Sounds of Bermuda, this float highlights the distinctive and unique building structures found in Bermuda, along with the traditional school uniforms worn by our local students. Both of these features prominently represent the culture of our Island home and the continued commitment of community service by the Bermuda Alumnae Chapter.’ Unlike their first act of service with a suffrage march by 22 young ladies of Howard University in 1913, the women of the 2013 Bermuda Day Parade did not have to be accompanied by a male chaperone.

Thinking about Bermuda Day, Heather LW Whalen, Senior Community and Cultural Affairs Officer, noted: “I am especially pleased that one of the main recommendations of the Pitt Commission is now being realised, as its Report recommended that Bermuda organise an event to bring the people of our country together in harmony to build and foster a greater sense of civic pride. Witnessing people of various races and ethnicities parading and dancing in the streets on May 24th this year, together with the thousands of people from diverse backgrounds who lined the streets to enjoy the revelry, I believe that we have achieved that particular goal in part. The sense of community was so palpable on this day, that it gives hope for better, more unified tomorrows.”

That sense of community was poignantly expressed in the float made in tribute to the late Portuguese-Bermudian, Edward de Mello by the Vasco da Gama Club, for though his promotion of music over a number of decades, “Eddie” reached out to all sections of the community and got playback from all, even, it appears, after his earthly parade was run.

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director@bmm.bm or 704-5480.

The Vasco da Gama Club of Bermuda paid homage to one of the great Portuguese-Bermudians, the late Eddie de Mello, famed owner of the ‘Music Box’ on Reid Street.
The charming float made by the students of Sandys Secondary Middle School spoke to the theme of Heritage Month as ‘The colours, sights and sounds of Bermuda’.
The big and little sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority with their Bermuda Day float, which also marked a century of the foundation of the sorority.
Robertgeorge Peets of the Long Riders Club and other bikers opened the Bermuda Day Parade with a cavalcade of machines: his love of many years adores his gas tank (inset).

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Published June 01, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 31, 2013 at 8:36 pm)

Bermuda heritage on parade

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