Did you know the Castries harbor that the French called le Petit Cul de Sac or le Carenage was one of the busiest ports in the Caribbean?
For years the only activity it had seen was the shoals of fish that swept in and out.
Then the Amerindians came to fish in the bay and search for oysters in the mangroves.
Fleets of ships sailed into the harbor during the wars between the French and the English.
Castries was a busy trading center; merchant vessels brought passengers and goods to the island and left loaded with produce from the estates.
They paid a tax of a penny per ton if they were fifty tons or more, four pence per ton if they were less and for water they paid two pence per trip.
If they were less than fifty tons or registered in Castries, they paid six pence for half a year.
These taxes were collected by a Town Warden appointed by the Government.
In 1851, a Town Council was elected and Henry Hegart Breen became the first Mayor of Castries.
The Council managed the wharf until 1871. Then it was decided that money collected for harbor taxes belonged to the entire colony and not just to Castries. By the end of that century steamships had replaced the old fashioned sailing ships.
To produce the steam that powered them, they heated their boilers by burning coal. Since all their valuable space was needed for cargo, they had to take on extra coal whenever they could.
Castries soon became a coaling station and the docks became busier than ever.
Gradually, the need for coal became less, since the boats were usually powered by diesel. Women still hurried to the wharf when certain boats arrived, but they carried bananas on their heads instead of baskets of coal.
As traffic increased, the harbor was extended and improved. The Northern wharf was built in 1886 to allow large freighters and cruise ships to berth alongside.
However, on loading days there was no longer enough of space on the Western wharf, where the Geest boats docked. Even the Prince Albert Basin where schooners and coastal boats were tied up had outlived its usefulness.
Eventually the basin was filled in, a facility for cruise ships, new warehouses and docks were built in order for Port Castries to keep up to the growing traffic activities.
Source: Bush Talk Saint. Lucia People and Places by Maria Grech
Photo credit: http://slaspa.com/contentPages/view/port-castries
This feature runs every Tuesday and Thursday. It is compiled by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]