Land grabs inquiry: St David’s a ‘less important amenity’

  • Jean Foggo Simon, a researcher at the St David’s Island Historical Society, spoke yesterday at the Commission of Inquiry into historical land grabs
  • A national treasure: St David’s Island
  • A national treasure: St David’s Island
  • The Commission of Inquiry into historical land grabs

The homes of people in St David’s were razed to protect the tourism industry, a Commission of Inquiry was told yesterday.

Jean Foggo Simon, a researcher at the St David’s Island Historical Society, said many poor, black Bermudian families lost their properties in the 1940s to create a US base because wealthy white families wanted to protect the tourism industry — and their own property values.

Ms Foggo Simon said: “Even though my grandparents were ageing and my great-grandfather was in a wheelchair, it didn’t make any difference to the greed of those in power — both Bermudian and US officials.

“As I studied the discrimination and difficulties our people had trying to locate and keep their families together, it makes me ill thinking of the stress they lived under.”

She was speaking as the Commission of Inquiry started its investigation into historic land losses in Bermuda through theft, dispossession, adverse possession claims or other unlawful or irregular means.

Ms Foggo Simon said, when the United States was allowed to build a base in Bermuda, they proposed a site on the Great Sound in the western side of the island.

But she added the proposal was ruled by those in power to be a threat to the lucrative tourism industry and would hurt property values in an upscale part of the island.

Ms Foggo Simon said a committee instead pushed for the base to be built in St David’s, which was said to be a “less important amenity”.

She added the Government promised St David’s people that a committee would be formed to help them get fair compensation and that the bases would bring economic benefits.

Ms Foggo Simon said: “The building of the base in the East End was seen as a double victory for Bermuda’s white merchants.

“On one hand, it ensured that the tourism areas would remain intact and, on the other, it would provide an economic engine for what was considered to be the most backward part of the colony.”

She added her own family was affected, and that her great-grandparents lost their home and their five acres of farmland.

Ms Foggo Simon said her grandparents had relied on “five orange trees, 50 banana trees, four lime trees and a grapevine” planted on their property to make ends meet.

She added they were offered $422 for the land — but that she was unsure if that was the total or a per-acre rate.

Ms Foggo Simon said: “Official arbitrators strongly favoured outside speculation and did not consider the replacement value of ‘negro shacks’ — what they referred to our homes as.

“The speculators relied on the tourist aesthetics to establish property values at the hearings and the locals of St David’s island often emphasised their long-time residency at the hearings — St David’s was their home.”

She added the St David’s experience mirrored events that had happened 20 years earlier in Tucker’s Town, where families were removed for tourism development.

Ms Foggo Simon quoted from a “classroom book” that outlined the land seizure.

She said: “There was a strong racial element to these developments and transferring a huge swath of land to wealthy white foreigners.

“The Tucker’s Town scheme displaced 400 black Bermudians who were fishermen, shipbuilders and small farmers.

“When some residents resisted, tourism promoters such as Sir Stanley Spurling were livid.

“In a fit of rage, Mr Spurling said the black residents of Tucker’s Town were ‘undoubtable going backward. The standard of morality, the standard of the people themselves was receding’.

“For the white members of the House of Assembly, anyone opposed to the development was against progress itself.”

The commission was adjourned until October 19.