CoI: Tucker’s Town was a key to growth of tourism
A Canadian historian said yesterday the development of Tucker’s Town for tourism was a “lynchpin” in the growth of the sector.
Duncan McDowall, who appeared for a second time at the Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the historic loss of land, said Bermuda was ill-equipped to create a tourism industry after the First World War.
He told the commission: “There were the rudiments of the industry and they wanted to bring it back to Bermuda.
“There was competition out there and they knew they had a wonderful product, but had to get it deliverable.
“The numbers are only about 10,000 a year before the war. There was great promise but a lot of work to be done.”
Legislation passed by the House of Assembly in August 1920 allowed a compulsory purchase order for the Bermuda Development Company to take over Tucker’s Town for tourism development.
Dr McDowall said the plan was to develop luxury homes to attract wealthy travellers to the island and a hotel for those who were “one rung down”.
He added: “We all feel the need to be in the shadow of some celebrity and that’s why Tucker’s Town was developed.”
Dr McDowall said the rich wanted a quiet, rural destination far from the bustle of city life – and the residents of Tucker’s Town, who were mostly black people, were not in a position to resist the decision to remove them.
He said: “There was an unspoken appeal to Tucker’s Town in that this was a community that could be shifted.”
Mr McDowell said it was unlikely the removal of the Tucker’s Town community was designed to shore up white political power in the area at a time when land ownership was a requirement to gain voting rights.
He added: “I think the people behind this, their primary motivation was this pump-priming of the Bermuda economy.
“There was a sense of desperation that this had to take place for the economic benefit of Bermuda and, of course, their own personal economic benefit.”
Dr McDowall said Tucker’s Town was a viable, self-sufficient community but the island’s agriculture industry was weakening.
He added: “You could see agriculture fading through the late 19th century, disrupted by the First World War and not coming back afterwards.
“Whatever we may think of the mercantile elite, they knew that Bermuda’s future existence was on the line. Would tourists come back? Would agriculture be resuscitation? Would the British military stay?
“There was a very precarious sense into which this project landed and seemed to be the sort of elixir they were looking for.”
Dr McDowall objected to the description of what happened at Tucker’s Town as a “land grab” or “land theft” because a regulated process was used to acquire the site.
He said: “Whatever we may conclude about the quality of the compensation and the just value of the compensation, there was at least a process. It wasn’t unregulated.”
He added that the value of some of the payouts were known – such as BD Talbot who received £8,000 for 70 acres of land – but compensation paid for other blocks of land was not.
Dr McDowall said he was unaware how much Francis Goodwin Gosling was paid for his 100 acres of land, but suggested it was a substantial sum given his connection to the project.
He said: “We can be assured he was handsomely paid because he was handing the development company the first big chunk of what they wanted and, furthermore, he got a job with the company – he became the point person in Bermuda for this development.”
Dr McDowall added that direct financial compensation for the loss of the land to families affected would be difficult to achieve.
But he said that in Canada, his homeland, a variety of efforts had been made to right historical wrongs carried out against indigenous and minority peoples.
Dr McDowall said that some payments were made, but the focus was to look forward with educational and cultural programmes.
He also highlighted the creation of perpetual trust funds to support the development of businesses and bolster education in the affected areas.