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Sacrifice and vision

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The Canadian Hotel, the first purpose-built hotel where Blacks could stay (Photograph courtesy of the Bermuda National Trust)

Recently I discovered a scrapbook belonging to my father with newspaper clippings dating back to the late Twenties. The one that captivated me most was an undated article with the headline “Philanthropist Rewarded”. This report related to a court case in which a Thomas Henry had a bag of money containing £262 5/- and a penny stolen from him. The purpose of the money was to purchase property from James Richards. Despite the loss of the money, Mr Richards completed the sale.

The case revealed that the thief had been apprehended and the funds delivered to James Richards Esq, proprietor of the Canadian Hotel, by Chief of Police Ivor Stourton. The article went on to say that Mr Richards was well known in business and fraternal circles, and was connected with many institutions that stand for progress, including the Pembroke Gift Club, Hendrickson’s Gift Club and the Bermuda Loan Club.

Bermuda Police research confirms that Ivor Stourton was Chief of Police in Bermuda from 1933 to 1939.

My parents were friends of Mr Richards and his wife, and I vaguely remember visiting them as a child at the Canadian Hotel. Their grandson, Jimmy, was the only Bermudian I knew when I first went to Jamaica to school. My late Aunt Thelma recalled their daughter, Doris, as her friend at The Berkeley Institute. My aunt spent the school week with her aunt at Franklyn Lodge on Union Street and returned to St George’s for the weekends. Doris, she said, “had the best school lunches and her chicken salad sandwiches were such a welcome change from my plain old cheese”.

In later years, my husband and I attended two parties at Ripley, Doris’s elegant home at the corner of King Street and Victoria Street. But then I digress...

That simple clipping stimulated many memories and, although much has been written about James “Dick” Richards, I felt it was fitting to remember this man who was, during his era, described as one of the richest Black men in Bermuda and the first man of colour to own a hotel licence.

In 1872, James “Dick” Richards was born in Black River, St Elizabeth, Jamaica. By the age of 15, both his parents had died, leaving the family to fend for themselves. James made the decision to leave his rural community and relocate to the city of Kingston to seek employment. He travelled by foot, and if one studies a map of Jamaica, you will understand why it took him many days to make the journey. He had no funds and quickly found work in a bakery where he was subjected to inhumane treatment, which required him to work day and night.

In 1890, he enlisted in the British West Indian Regiment, a division of the British Army commonly called the Bully Roosters because of their colourful uniforms. His regiment was involved in many well-documented African insurrections, including the Ashanti War in West Africa and the Boer War in South Africa.

In 1897, his regiment was a part of the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee celebration in England.

James Richards arrived in Bermuda with the West Indian Regiment in 1903. By 1904 he was working as a baker with the Bermuda Royal Engineers in Prospect before transferring to the British Army Canteen, also in Prospect, and later to the Dockyard Canteen run by Gosling’s. He held this position for several years before becoming a tavern keeper at the Harbourfront Bar on Front Street in 1909.

Four years after his arrival in Bermuda, Mr Richards married Jane Victoria Smith, of Montserrat, and of this union there were two daughters. They were an ambitious couple and, with his wife’s encouragement, ventured into business ownership.

By 1913 he was running a bar on the Stonehaven property and in 1919 he purchased Canadian House, a small boarding house and adjoining army and navy bar. These properties in modern Bermuda are listed as 62, 63 and 65 Reid Street. He demolished the original building and in 1921 began construction of the Canadian Hotel, which had four storeys on one side and three on the other. During segregation, it was the first purpose-built hotel in Bermuda where Black people could stay.

J. Fred Tucker was the designer and builder of the hotel. He was well known as the building director for the Samaritan Institute in Warwick. In later years, he represented Pembroke in the House of Assembly from 1953 to 1958.

In 1926, he purchased Stonehaven at 67 Reid Street, towards the back of the Canadian Hotel, from the heirs of Hezekiah Frith. Mr and Mrs Richards moved into this imposing Georgian style house, which was demolished in 2004.

In 1939, Mr Richards, E.F. Gordon and other cricket enthusiasts negotiated, with the co-operation of cricket clubs, to bring the first West Indian cricket touring team to Bermuda, captained by Ben J. Sealey. Members of the team were from Barbados, Trinidad and British Guiana, and were hosted at the Canadian Hotel. After Cup Match, it was the last match of the season and the island welcomed them with great enthusiasm when they arrived at No 6 Shed on Front Street. When the team arrived that September, the world was at war, which prevented the local players from getting time from their jobs to play or practise. All five matches were played at White Hill Field. The Bermudian teams were unsuccessful, but put up a good showing against the more experienced visitors.

The concrete lion was a feature of the upper floor of the Canadian Hotel (Photograph courtesy of the Bermuda National Trust)

There was a large concrete lion lying across the front of the upper floor of the hotel. The popular nightclub, The Lion’s Deck, was located on the fourth floor and featured dining and a live band. It was said to be the centre of everything sophisticated. Only the fashionably dressed elite were admitted. Cigar-smoking men wore suits or tuxedos, while heavily perfumed and bejewelled women wore dresses designed and made by local dressmakers who vied to outdo each other. Hairdressers pressed and curled their hair into elaborate styles. The Lion’s Deck at the Canadian Hotel was the place to be and be seen.

In 1933, there was the Innkeepers Act, which prohibited Blacks and Jews entry into White establishments. In 1959, this Act was changed after the Theatre Boycott, which resulted in the desegregation of all public places in Bermuda.

There were many bars around Hamilton at that time. One person said there were more bars in that area than grocery shops. Blue Moon, American House, George Sheppard and Dick Smith’s bars were popular, but the Canadian Hotel was the most well-known. There was a nightclub across from the Canadian Hotel and when it closed for the night the patrons drifted over to Dick Richards’s, whose club seemed to have no time limit. There was a bar on street level but the Lion’s Deck was for hotel guests and the elite.

James “Dick” Richards (Photograph courtesy of the Charles Snaith Collection)

Mr Richards was a stern, no-nonsense man who managed poor behaviour in his establishments with a heavy wooden stick. Occasionally, he positioned himself in a chair at the top of the stairs leading to the Lion’s Deck. When bush jackets became fashionable, one young man decided to go up the stairs and patronise this exclusive club. Mr Richards advised the man that he needed to attire himself in a jacket. “This is a jacket,” answered the would-be patron. Mr Richards, described as a very dark-skinned and imposing figure, calmly repeated his request. The young man became belligerent and proceeded to push his way through. Onlookers reported that Mr Richards calmly leant back in his chair, reached for his wooden “disciplinarian” and delivered his message. There was a whole lot of scrambling down those stairs that night.

When the American servicemen were here during the building the Naval Operating Base and Kindley Field bases, Hamilton was a busy place. Shops were open until 9pm and servicemen flooded into the City, drinking and carousing in the streets. Fighting was a common occurrence and usually involved the Americans brawling with each other or with the Cubans who had been brought in by America to work as labourers.

When it came to lending money. Mr Richards financed both racial communities. He is said to have assisted financially strapped White businesses on Front Street, and Cavendish Heights was nicknamed “Mortgage Hill” because of the number of mortgages he backed for the White community who purchased land and built homes in that area.

Mr Richards owned the White Hill Bar overlooking White Hill Field. It was managed by Joseph Nicholas Quamie. Mr Richards owned the southern portion of White Hill Field, while Gosling’s owned the northern side towards the Arnold’s Maxi Mart. It was on this field that the first Women’s Cup Match was held in the 1930s. At that time there were women's cricket teams but the teams most remembered are the Gaiety Girls, Rosebud Social Club and the St George’s Sports Club. There were two matches held in September with an admission fee of 1/-.

In September 1943, the Bermuda Recorder reported the game as a two-day event held at St George’s Grammar School field.

Mr Richards provided an enormously large cup for billiards named the Dick Richards Trophy. The competition was between Ex-Artillerymen’s Club, Pembroke Hamilton Club, Warwick Workmen’s Club and Somerset Cricket Club. The finals were always held on the day before Good Friday. This competition no longer takes place.

In 1942, he purchased Ripley, a three-storey mansion at 42 King Street as a wedding gift for his daughter, Doris. In 1943, she married master carpenter and furniture restorer Russell Levi Pearman at St Paul AME Church. Mr Pearman was elected from 1948 to 1958 to the House of Assembly representing Smith’s Parish. In 1938, he is recorded as the first Black man to fly to New York by seaplane.

Mr Richards purchased land at 35 Union Street in 1945 and built the impressive, three-storey Metropolitan Building. Its estimated value at the time was £6,000. The lower floor was used for commercial purposes, while the upper levels were residential units. Interestingly, while researching, I discovered that this land had in 1944 belonged to my husband’s great-great grandfather, Henry Adolphus Simmons, whose heirs had sold it to Joyce E. Williams, who sold it to James Richards the following year.

Dick Richards, businessman extraordinaire and philanthropist, was a principal shareholder of the Bermuda National Bank. He gave generously not only to Bermuda but to Jamaica, the island of his birth where he was described as “Bermuda King”.

He assisted Bermuda’s first social service organisation, the Sunshine League founded by Agnes May Robinson in 1919, and gave scholarships to The Berkeley Institute. He gave generously to the Salvation Army, St Paul AME Church and to many unrecorded Bermudians in need.

Mr Richards, a dominant figure in Bermuda’s entrepreneurial history, died in 1965 at the age of 92 while playing cards with his friends at the Canadian Hotel. His beloved wife, Jane Victoria, died ten months later.

Although the Canadian Hotel was demolished in 2019, the life of James “Dick” Richards will go down in history as a reminder of what can be accomplished through sacrifice and vision.

Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons is a retired nurse, historian, writer and author of The Bermuda Cookbook

Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons is a retired nurse, historian, writer and author of The Bermuda Cookbook. With thanks to the Bermuda National Trust, Reginald Pearman, Lee Burrows, Venita Smith, Superintendent (retired) George Rose, William Young, Quinton Butterfield Sr, and Charlotte “Molly” Simons


The Bermudian Heritage Museum biographies

Rays of Hope by Carol Hill 2000

The Royal Gazette (Ira Phillip, 2012)

The BNT Hamilton Town and City Edition (2015)

Researcher Thomas V. James

The Bermuda Recorder (September 1943)

Bermuda Cricket Reminiscences (Arthur C.G. Simons, 1944)

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Published September 14, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated September 13, 2023 at 8:44 pm)

Sacrifice and vision

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