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Tucker’s Town buy-up could not happen today Commission told.

The 1920 land grab that took place in Tucker’s Town could not happen today, a historian testified yesterday.

Duncan McDowall, a Canadian, said the process used to displace residents from their land “would never meet muster in our society, yours or mine”.

Dr McDowall was testifying via tele-link before the Commission of Inquiry into Historic Land Losses in Bermuda.

His research interests include the history of Bermuda and modern tourism.

Legislation passed by the House of Assembly in August 1920 allowed a compulsory purchase order for the Bermuda Development Company to take over the land for tourism development.

Dr McDowall said the area of just over 500 acres covered the whole of Tucker’s Town and part of Hamilton Parish.

He added about two-thirds of the “almost exclusively black” community accepted the price offered of about 75 pounds an acre.

Dr McDowall said a determination whether that was a fair price “is very hard to do” – but the fact that so many people accepted the offer “indicates they were getting the price pretty much right”.

He added a second group settled on a price through arbitration and a third group were holdouts “because they genuinely didn’t want to leave Tucker’s Town or because they were playing a market game – as supply dwindles, the price goes up.”

Dr McDowall said one resident who held out for compensation of 25,000 pounds was offered 8,000 pounds for his 72 acres – and was “arbitrated off his land”.

He highlighted that the development of Tucker’s Town “set the pinnacle of what Bermuda tourism represented” and “created a broad-based tourism that was a powerful ingredient of Bermuda’s economy”.

Dr McDowall said the development was based on it becoming an isolated pocket of Bermuda.

He added: “They wanted an exclusive community not just based on race, but on class, wealth. They didn’t want a subsistence farmer living next door.”

He agreed with Jonathan Starling of the commission that the displaced residents were “really quite powerless in the scheme of things in Bermuda”.

Dr McDowall said residents of Tucker’s Town and St David’s had paid a disproportionate price for the development of tourism, compared to other island residents.

He added: “They lost geography and their way of life was displaced.”

He said the land in Tucker’s Town “was not comparable to land in Southampton” but a review of the relative values of land in other parishes at the time would be a good subject for research.

Dr McDowall added that whether the compensation received by the displaced residents of Tucker’s Town “would sustain or improve them in other parts of Bermuda, I don’t know.”

He told commission counsel Ivan Whitehall QC that the development of Tucker’s Town required “a very large injection of capital” that would not have been available from island investors.

Dr McDowall said the development “delivered a Bermuda tourism product that was trend-setting”.

He added that he hoped the Commission’s work would result in a “more healthy environment” in Bermuda.

Dr McDowall said: “That depends on transparency, and not hiding things any more.”

The hearing continues.

Longstanding sore point: an aerial view of Tucker's Town, at the heart of a land grab controversy (File photograph by Andrew Stevenson)

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Published October 23, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated October 23, 2020 at 8:56 am)

Tucker’s Town buy-up could not happen today Commission told.

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