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Dark Bottom, a 1950s haven and horror

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The Beast With The Five Fingers roamed St David’s feasting on children when Edwin Cannonier was young.

At least that’s what the grown-ups said about Dark Bottom, a dense forest of cedar trees just below the lighthouse where he and his friends played.

“It was not scary by day, but at night if you had to cross that going somewhere you made time,” the 75-year-old said. “There was no stopping.”

He thinks the story was made up to ensure the neighbourhood children were home on time.

“We thought it was extraordinary that the beast had five fingers,” he said.

The trees were killed by the cedar blight in the late early 1950s and removed by government. Dark Bottom is now a playground and Mr Cannonier lives in Smith’s. But, he says, if he could live his adult life over he’d do it in St David’s, a place where close kinship ties meant that whatever was in your backyard was sometimes viewed as communal property.

“St David’s was just beautiful,” he said. “We were all family. No one locked their doors. You didn’t steal in St David’s. You took.”

He remembered the time his uncle took some plywood from a neighbour and was then relieved of it by a relative, who turned it into cabinets.

“One morning I heard all this talking and screaming,” Mr Cannonier said. “My uncle was arguing with his nephew about it. But no one really got to fighting over it and stopped speaking. Everyone was part of a community. “

He remembers how, one Good Friday eve, he and forty other boys gathered outdoors around a big pot over an open fire.

“We had vegetables and whoever was cooking decided we needed some meat for the pot so we all split off into groups. One went this way, one went another.”

The boys thought it was a good idea to “take” chickens from their neighbours’ coops.

“One man called out from his house, ‘who is out there?’” Mr Cannonier said. “And one of the boys called back ‘Just us chickens’. He said okay and went back inside. I guess he knew there was a group of guys outside and didn’t want to mess with us.”

The next day officers rounded up the older boys and took them to the police station.

“I don’t think they were ever charged,” Mr Cannonier said. “I think their parents were just called and they were released.”

Because of his age, he wasn’t hauled in for being part of ‘the great St David’s chicken caper’, but word got around fast and his parents found out he was involved.

“They gave me a good scolding, but that was all,” he said. “I suppose they had done similar things when they were young.”

His mother, Ethel, was a teacher at St David’s Primary School; his father, Clarence, whose friends knew him as “Straight”, worked for Maytag, a company that handled refuelling at the airport.

Mr Cannonier was 13 when his father died suddenly. He and his brother were at the Chapel of Ease Church preparing for their confirmation at the time. As they often did, his parents had taken a bunch of children to the beach for a swim.

“It was Thursday afternoon and everyone was off,” Mr Cannonier said. “I remember someone came to the church and said my father had drowned. My brother and I ran over to the beach.”

They arrived to see their father being loaded into an ambulance. He became distressed while playing with the children in the water and just managed to toss a toddler sitting on his shoulders into safer, shallow water, before slipping under the waves.

“He died after he got to hospital,” Mr Cannonier said. “They said he’d had a brain haemorrhage. The doctor said if he’d survived he probably would have been paralysed. He was an active man. He wouldn’t have wanted that.”

His father had been cleaning out fuel tanks for Maytag the day before he died. Doctors later theorised his brain haemorrhage happened because he had been exposed to fumes.

“One of the younger guys went into the tank and the fumes took him over and he fell down,” Mr Cannonier said. “My father rushed into the tank to pull him out with no mask. He got the young boy out.”

To help the family, he left St George’s Secondary School and found a job; his two older brothers and two younger sisters kept up with their studies.

“I enjoyed working and they were getting educated,” he said. “I was smart on my own so I could handle myself.”

He studied accounting at night and, in 1970 began work at Pendle Hill Prison Farm in Ferry Reach.

He enjoyed working with the young men there but came to feel that some of them were harshly treated by Bermuda’s criminal justice system.

“At that time if you were caught riding a motorcycle under the age of 16, you were sent to jail,” he said, explaining that after two years he left and joined Esso.

“If they needed help on the truck I would be out on the truck. Then they put me in the warehouse. When the guy in charge of the warehouse retired, they moved me up. I was warehouse dispatcher for 25 years. I retired at 55.”

Mr Cannonier continued to work, running the old Meyer marina in St George’s for a few years and then driving a truck for Butterfield & Vallis.

“Then I just wanted to cool out so I did security for the courts,” he said.

He and his wife Cheryl met as children. In June they celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary.

“My mother had a brownie troop and Cheryl would come to the house,” he said. “She was from Bailey’s Bay. I had an aunt who married a Hollis from Bailey’s Bay. When I went to stay with her during the summer holidays I met up with Cheryl again.”

The two became great friends.

“Whenever we travelled around the island people thought we were brother and sister,” he said.

Heavy rain and thunder made Mrs Cannonier an hour late for their wedding.

“People said it was an omen and that we would be married for ever,” Mr Cannonier said. “They were right.”

A former president of St David’s Cricket Club, he is now fully retired. He loves watching football and cricket on television and spending time with his children – Antoine, Anthony, Andre and Tia – eight grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

Edwin Cannonier with his granddaughter Bryony Smith (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Edwin Cannonier, left, in St David’s with friend Stanely Sheppard (Photograph supplied)

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Published October 14, 2020 at 7:00 am (Updated October 14, 2020 at 6:15 pm)

Dark Bottom, a 1950s haven and horror

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