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Donald Smith brought Bermudians to the world

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On their way: a guided tour put on by Donald Smith Travel Agency via Colonial Airlines, a Canadian airline which was later bought by Eastern Airlines (Photograph supplied)

Mention the name Donald Smith and most black Bermudian seniors will instantly recall travelling abroad on his affordable group tours, his organised American camps for children and his notorious Bermuda Dance held every September, in New York.

Around 1948, Mrs Ruby Robinson took the ferry to and from Somerset where she was employed in Donald Smith’s successful real estate business located upstairs in the Hinson/Hill building at 32 Parliament Street in Hamilton.

He was not involved in travel during the period of her employment.

She recalled that architect Wycliffe Stovell and lawyer, Sir Edward Richards, had their offices in that same building.

The lower floor was occupied by Hinson’s Feed and Paint Store. The Hamilton Police Station was located beside it.

Shortly thereafter, he transitioned into a successful travel agency where he was described as one of Bermuda’s first black travel agents.

Bermudian trailblazer: Donald Smith, founder of Donald Smith Travel Agency (Photograph supplied)

George McDonald Smith born in 1919, was the son of Hosay and Adelaide Lough Smith.

His father arrived in Bermuda from the Turks and Caicos Islands at the invitation of a Bermudian family who had Turks Island roots.

For 35 years he was employed by the Navy, Army Air Force Institutes (Naafi).

During the years of his retirement he wrote a book on the history of Turks and Caicos Islands and opened a grocery store downstairs of his home. He later opened another in Devonshire.

Donald, as most people knew him, and his sister, Edwena, were born in Warwick.

The family moved to Elliott Street and later to a home that his father built on the corner of Princess and Angle Streets.

He attended the Berkeley Institute followed by a school in Jamaica and later a business school in Canada. Upon his returned to Bermuda, he married Joyce Tucker of St George’s.

Around 1950 he employed Leola Edness as his assistant in his newly established travel business.

A few years later Ms Edness moved to America where she eventually opened her own travel agency.

Church conference: a Donald Smith Travel Agency advertisment for a trip to Miami, Florida, for the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Photograph supplied)

In 1952 Lillian Minors, of Archlyn Villa Guest House fame, heard of a vacant position in the Donald Smith Travel Agency.

She immediately knew that 16-year-old Marilyn Darrell would be the perfect fit.

She contacted her and the next day they were off for an interview. Marilyn was employed on the spot and began work immediately.

She had not been there very long before Mr. Smith and Ms Edness left to take a group on a cricket tour to Canada.

This was well before computerisation. In order to make client reservations, she had to telephone the airlines, go personally to collect the tickets and wait in line at the bank to complete deposits.

She was on her own and, as she recalled, “she just got on with it“. The job involved selling tours, individual tickets as well as summer camps abroad for children.

They assisted clients in completing passport and immigration forms and allowed them to pay on overseas tours.

Marilyn, who later married and became Mrs John Smith, recalled: “At Donald Smith’s Agency we believed in excellence and always went the extra mile.”

After 44 years with the agency, Marilyn retired but later returned to work 13 more years with Meyer and Co!

Donald Smith was an avid traveller and always went in person to organise all of his tours.

He even took tours to Trinidad so that his clients could enjoy the yearly Carnival.

The staff were always very professionally dressed. In the early days of the business their suits were tailored by Mrs Rita Phillip-Alban but in later years, Mr Smith provided Jaeger suits from AS Cooper.

Rebecca Francis joined the agency in her late teens. She described the Jaeger suits with plaid jackets and pleated skirts in a subtle green to match.

Rebecca, well known for style, personalised her uniform with a variety of scarfs. She remained with the agency for over thirty years and continues to provide invaluable and experienced assistance today, at Travel Edge.

George McDonald Smith JP became the agent for Colonial Airlines and was recognised in April, 1977 by Black Enterprise on a list of black travel agents world wide. He was also an esteemed member of SKAL, an international organisation of tourism leaders around the world. He was elected a Common Councillor in the Corporation of Hamilton in 1974 and by 1988 was elected an Alderman.

Camp time: a Donald Smith Travel Agency advertisement for Craigmeade Camp in upstate New York (Photograph supplied)

In 1951 Elaine Darrell-Bean, Marilyn’s younger sister, was 12 when she travelled with fourteen other young Bermudians to Craigmeade Summer camp organised by Donald Smith Travel.

They were chaperoned by Lilly Minors who escorted them at the end of July and back to Bermuda in early September. She remembered Linda Minors-Perinchief and Elaine Harris-Stowe being a part of the group.

They flew to New York and drove an additional 165 miles by bus to the summer camp located at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. They were able to meet American students and participate in numerous activities. The last week was spent on educational tours, sightseeing and visiting relatives in New York.

Mrs Bean recalled that when travelling by bus, everyone was shocked when they gave up their seats to older passengers. Everyone was curious as to who they were and from whence they came.

The director of Craigmeade was Helen Meade, who was also the director of The Little Brown School House in the Bronx, New York.

Enid Simmons, who is 101, joined the agency in the early 1960s and continued to work there until she was 72. Prior to this, she had worked in the photographic business of Rutherford and Conyers.

During the war years, they were busy with photography for the US Bases. Later she joined Hill Photography. Mrs Simmons recalled the popular Canadian and American bus tours chaperoned by Norwood “Brody” Smith, Kitchener Trott and Hugh “Rio” Richardson.

In the spirit of adventure, Mrs Simmons travelled alone to visit London. She stayed in a hotel on Oxford Street and knew that Hubert Smith and his group were performing in London. Off she went to find their hotel and luckily she found them sitting in the lobby. They were stunned to see her and concerned that she was wandering London alone and escorted her back to her hotel.

During that visit Mrs Simmons realised that Bermudians should be encouraged to visit Europe. She collected numerous brochures and upon her return suggested tours to Europe. There was some concern relating to the cost but a savings plan was arranged allowing black Bermudians to explore Europe.

In the mid 1950s, Shirley Pearman-Blakeney began travelling alone on yearly tours from the age of 18.

“There was a certain excitement and expectation from one year to the next,” she said. Every year she noticed basically, the same forty people travelled together with a few new additions. She enjoyed many tours over the years but most of all the tour of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Often, the travelling time on the European tours would be three to four hours. A British comedian was hired to entertain the travellers. Sometimes after two hours one comedian disembarked to be replaced by another. It made for an hilarious journey.

In 1984 she recalled an escorted South Pacific tour with her husband Eugene. The group flew from Bermuda to New York then onto San Francisco. In Los Angeles they boarded a cruise ship and sailed to Hawaii, Fiji and New Zealand before flying back to Bermuda from Australia.

Victoria Dickenson-Daulphin joined the Agency when she returned to the island from business school in the United States. Victoria was originally from Somerset and before long she had attracted clients from the west.

Following her engagement to Charles Daulphin, a prominent sportsman and owner of a sports shop, her client base again increased to accommodate residents from the Friswell’s Hill area and families involved in sport.

Walter “Dickie” Green also offered tours. Although in 1960 he advertised his 9th annual tour, all travel was arranged through the Donald Smith Agency which was an internationally certified IATA member. This certification confirmed the Agency’s compliance with international regulations, standards and practices.

The Big Apple: A Donald Smith Travel Agency advertisement for an eight-day trip to New York City - for 43 pounds! (Photograph supplied)

If you ask anyone about Donald Smith Travel, they immediately remember his Bermuda Dance held every September in New York. It was always held at the culmination of his large cross country tour that ended in New York around Labour Day.

There was also a weekend tour that enabled Bermudians to travel to New York for the event. Couples could be seen leaving Bermuda with Gosling’s In-bond Liquor packs in each hand. It was described as the premier event in the Black social calendar.

The agency arranged for Bermudians to stay at The Henry Hudson Hotel, the Edison and the MacAlpine but of course many stayed with family and friends.

At first the Dance was held in Harlem and later to 34th Street down town New York. There was a full orchestra and a bar. Bermudians living throughout America attended bringing traditional Bermudian food. Bottles of liquor were prominently displayed on many tables.

Mrs Sylvia Courtney and her husband always took the tours and when their children were old enough they travelled with them. They visited places as far as Hawaii and Australia.

“He got Bermudians off the island,” she said. They always attended the Bermuda Dance which was always the culmination of the tours. Everyone wore their finest. They were held at the Edison Hotel in New York when she attended. Everyone was dressed “to kill”. Men in suits and ties, women in fashionable cocktail dresses. After the dance, the Courtneys always had an ‘after party’ in their room.

Rebecca Francis recalled that after 1am following the dance, Mr Smith took the staff and tour guides to the original Red Rooster in Harlem where they were treated to chicken and waffles. This restaurant was a favourite hangout of Rev. Adam Clayton Powell and the writer, James Baldwin.

In the early years, Marilyn Smith recalled Mr Smith entertaining them at Wells Restaurant, also in Harlem. This establishment existed from 1938-1982. It was said they served the best chicken and waffles in the world. It was frequented by the singer Nat King Cole. He enjoyed the restaurant so much that he held his wedding reception there.

Bermudians living in New Jersey continued the festivities by holding another dance in New Jersey the following evening - a continuation of the previous night’s festivities and to further entertain friends for Bermuda and various parts of America.

According to Mrs Enid Simmons: “It was a great time in the old town.”

When Donald Smith died in 1993, his sister Edwena formed the business into a company which was later sold to Gary Kent-Smith.

The business continues today as TRIP travel.

With thanks to: Those who continue to share their memories with me and to Malikah Sheeheed, Bermuda Library and Archives

References: Hamilton, Bermuda: City and Capital 1897-1997; Colin Benbow and Marian S. Robb. 1997; Newspaper advertisements - The Royal Gazette 1956

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Published November 22, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated November 21, 2022 at 4:07 pm)

Donald Smith brought Bermudians to the world

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