Evidence of Saint Lucia’s French heritage is still seen in many communities
Anse La Raye
What is now the location of the coastal village of Anse La Raye must have been an alluring sight to early arriving Europeans with its sheltered harbour and classic beach with a river flowing into the sea at each end. The bay and adjacent waters were reported to have been teeming with fish in earlier times. The village got its name from the large number of flat-bodied skate fish which were easily seen lying on the bottom in the crystal clear shallows along the beach. In French, the skate was known as ‘raie’ thus the name, Anse La Raye, means ‘bay of skates’.
The fertile earth in the area resulted in the rapid development of agriculture and at the peak of the island’s plantation period, the Anse La Raye area had the largest number of estates on the island producing sugar, cotton, copra, cocoa and coffee. The area was one of greatest affected by events following the French Revolution which brought about the abolition of slavery. Freedom was short lived as the British re-took Saint Lucia and tried to reinstitute slavery to get the plantations producing again. The freed slaves rebelled attacking and killing nearly all of the planters and their families and burning the village to the ground leaving only the church’s foundation standing.
In the times that followed Anse La Raye became primarily a fishing village and boasts a thriving industry even to this day. In the past decade the area has grown dramatically as a suburban community with scores of beautiful homes rising everywhere on the surrounding cool ridges from which it is an easy commute to Castries for work. Anse La Raye is also well known for its Seafood Friday street party which is popular with visitors and locals alike.
The west coast village of Canaries got its name from the Amerindian word for the clay cooking pots they used. Interesting though, Canaries is perhaps the only area on the island that has no evidence of any appreciable Amerindian presence in those days immemorial. This is perhaps explained by the ruggedness and natural isolation the valley possesses, a trait which has lasted until rather recent times. The French arrived around 1725 but Canaries did not appear on any Saint Lucian maps until 1758 after two Frenchmen established the lone plantation which occupied where the village now sits and extended well up into the Canaries River valley.
This is not surprising since, effectively, the only way in or out was by sea. Being geographically challenged, Canaries was affected for nearly another two centuries. It wasn’t until 1959 that the West Coast Road was extended from Anse La Raye to Canaries. Amazingly, prior to this time to get to Castries, Canaries residents had to travel by boat to either Anse La Raye or Soufríere. And even then the journey remained arduous given the horrific conditions of the road from Anse La Raye north or the not much better conditions on the very lengthy journey from Soufríere all the way around the island and up the east coast to get to the capital in the north.
It’s no wonder that the small village Canaries has historically been, and somewhat remains, one of the most economically repressed communities on island. Today, Canaries largely relies on fishing or tourist industry or retail employment in Soufríere to the south. But, of course, this also has resulted in Canaries retaining a quaintness and friendly attitude unmatched by any other community.
Brazil Street in Castries
Castries, the capital city of Saint Lucia, was founded by the French in 1650 as Carenage (meaning safe anchorage), then renamed in 1756 after Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix, Marquis de Castries, a French military commander. The initial settlement was located north of the harbour at the area which is now known as Vigie near the George Charles Airport. This original site was abandoned in favour of the current location after a devastating hurricane in 1780. Castries is located on a flood plain and much of the modern town is actually built on reclaimed land. From 1803 to 1844 the British made Castries a major naval port and built fortifications on Morne Fortune, the mountain which overlooks this important harbour from the south. Numerous historical sites are still found on both sides of the harbour and on the Morne. By 1844, Castries had a population of 4,000. By the end of the century it had become a major coaling station, because it was the only port in the Caribbean capable of holding the whole British navy.
During WWII, a German U-boat sailed into Castries harbor and sank two allied ships. Castries has been rebuilt several times, following major fires in 1796 and 1813, and most notably on June 19, 1948.
Castries is home to the nations’ government and the offices of many of businesses both foreign and local. It has a sheltered harbour which receives cargo vessels and ferry boats and today is a busy cruise ship port. Duty Free shopping facilities are found at Point Seraphine and La Place Carenage. As a modern thriving city, Castries offers a wide variety of shopping and dining options to serve locals and visitors alike. The city is well serviced by a local bus system which provides transport to nearly every community on island.
The community of “Anse Citron”, meaning “Lime Bay”, was originally so named because of the abundance of lime trees growing in the area. In 1763 the English and the French signed a pact called the “Treaty of Paris”, giving the French possession of Saint Lucia. Soon after the community known as “Anse Citron” was renamed “Anse Choiseul” in honour of the Duke of Choiseul, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and later shortened to Choiseul.
Choiseul is located about halfway between Soufriere and Vieux Fort on the south west coast of Saint Lucia. In 1764 sugarcane was introduced to the island, Balenbouche and River Doree were two local estates established because of this development. The sugar mills on these two estates were powered by water which ran along aqueducts and cascaded onto paddles of the wheels forcing them around. At Balenbouche Estate the sugar mill can still be seen today.
At present, this community is well-known for its many arts and crafts works which stem from skills inherited from the Amerindians. They used the local clay to make cooking pots, vines to weave baskets and dried grass to make mats. Many of Choiseul’s residents, including descendents of the island’s early inhabitants, make their living today by applying the methods first used by the Amerindians centuries ago.
If any area can lay claim to having undergone the most dramatic transformation over the past five decades, it is Gros Islet. First, it should be noted that Gros Islet is not only the name of one of the island’s better known villages but also refers to one of the eleven geopolitical quarters, as they are called. The Quarter of Gros Islet consists of numerous communities that comprise the northern tip of the island and is an area that has undergone significant growth in terms of its number of residential homes as well as having become the area of greatest concentration of resorts, hotels and general tourism activity. Gros Islet
Prior to the 1970s the Village of Gros Islet was a quiet community somewhat isolated by a large area of swamplands that nearly surrounded it. This included much of what is now referred to as Rodney Bay as Reduit Beach, now the island’s busiest, was but a narrow strip of relatively dry land with the bay on one side and the swamps on the other. During WW II there was an American naval base located there that was the home to a sea planes unit that searched the regional waters for German U-boats. One of the few items remaining from those days is ‘the ramp’ which today is the parking area located between the Royal St. Lucian Hotel and Spinnaker’s restaurant. During the earlier times it was the actual ramp the seaplanes used to enter and exit the sea.
Following the war tourism development in this area was nearly non existent until in 1970 when the construction of the Rodney Bay Marina and inner harbour began. The project involved excavating the swamplands to make the inner harbour. The dirt that was removed was dumped to the north forming the causeway that connects the original shoreline to Pigeon Island, which was a true island prior to the project. It wasn’t long, of course, until resorts and hotels began springing up nearly everywhere around the beautiful beach and picturesque inner harbour.
It must be noted that Pigeon Island played a central role in the past history of the island first serving as the lair from which the infamous peg legged pirate, Jambe de Bois, attacked passing Spanish ships heavy with gold then later as a key British military installation which was crucial in their finally wresting Saint Lucia away from the French in the early 1800s. Today, Pigeon Island is a National Landmark with plenty of ruins from days past.
The Village of Gros Islet itself still retains much of its earlier simplistic charm while being an integral part of tourist activities including hosting the world famous Friday Night Jump Up street party. Numerous guest houses, restaurants and bars are found throughout the village and are preferred by visitors who want to experience more of the local culture.
Marigot Bay lays claim to being one of the most beautiful small harbours in all the Caribbean, a boast that few who visit ever dispute. Along with this stunning natural beauty Marigot Bay has for centuries been known as one of the best harbours for boats seeking shelter during even the worst tropical storms. Nicknamed Hurricane Hole, it is said that never has a boat been damaged when moored in the bay during a storm.
A few features of the bay are responsible. First, Marigot Bay is located on the west or leeward coast of the island which is normally subjected to winds coming in from the east. The bay itself is relatively narrow and is surrounded by high sheltering hills all the way around. Also, in the middle of the harbour a sand spit extends from the north side nearly half way across the bay serving as a block and buffer to any surging surf that enters. Boats are moored behind this spit in an area that generally remains very calm during even the worse conditions in the adjacent open sea.
Today Marigot Bay is a very popular yachting and resort destination. Adding to its quaint charm is the fact that the small hotels and restaurants located on the north side of the harbour are only accessible by boat. Ferry boats traverse back and forth from early morning to late in the night providing access. The bay is ringed with a number of restaurants and bars whose lights shimmering on the water make Marigot Bay as enchanting after dark as it is on a perfect Caribbean day.
Catholic church in Laborie
Prior to 1758 the village now known as Laborie was referred to as ‘Islet a Caret’ or ‘Turtle Island’; this name was derived from a small islet, visible from the shore, where sea turtles had a nesting spot.
In 1758 a devastating hurricane destroyed most of the churches on the island including the Islet a Caret parish church. The Baron de Laborie, who was Governor of Saint Lucia from 1784 to 1789, actively pursued the reestablishment of the original parishes. The village known as Islet a Caret soon came to be known as Laborie in his honour as the village church was the first to be rebuilt following a contribution from the Baron. The present church was built in 1907.
Today the village of Laborie arguably features the most scenic waterfront on the island with a tree lined beach that extends its entire breadth. Of course, an active fishing industry is found in the village while other residents are employed at the numerous local small businesses or make the short commute to the more developed town of Vieux Fort to the south.
Catholic church in Micoud
The Micoud area is rich in Amerindian history; evidence of cooking pits, stone and shell tools, pots and ornaments have been found by archaeologists at several locations. The peaceful Arawaks were the first settlers in this area but were soon wiped out by the Caribs, who took over the region and successfully kept the Europeans at bay until finally conceding defeat in 1760.
The community was named in honour of Monsieur de Micoud, Governor of Saint Lucia from 1768 to 1771. Micoud is well known for its agricultural activities and as the eastern gateway to the Central Forest Reserve.
Praslin is a small fishing village situated between Dennery and Mon Repos on the island’s east coast. The village, which was originally named Les Trois Islet, was renamed in 1780 to honour the Minister of the Navy to Louis XV, the Duc de Praslin. Praslin early on was a thriving community due to the very successful sugar estate owned by the Chavalier (later Baron) de Micoud, nephew of one of the island’s Governors.
The village experienced a reversal of fortune at the end of the century due in part to the political turmoil of the French Revolution. The church was destroyed and only remnants of its foundation are left today near the military cemetery. The sugar estate owned by the Chavalier de Micoud is now a tourist attraction named Mamiku Gardens.
Soufriere shows much evidence of early Amerindian occupation. Recent discoveries of the terraces and carved rocks at the nearby community of Belfond and the exciting new find of a petroglyph near Jalousie substantiate that Soufriére was one of their most important sites. Archaeologists have long known that the island’s earliest inhabitants considered the Pitons to have mystical powers and were central to their spiritual beliefs.
After the Amerindians, the first permanent settlers to arrive were the French who came near the end of the 17th century lured by the rich fertile soil of Soufriére that was ideal for farming. In 1746, Soufriére was officially recognized by France, as Saint Lucia’s first town. The name, Soufriere was derived from the French word for sulphur because of the volcano located nearby.
In the final years of that century came the French Revolution the effects of which were felt on a number of French held islands throughout the Caribbean. Many of the royalist plantation owners, having been given their lands by the king, were beheaded by revolutionaries. A ship carrying the guillotine for this purpose sailed into Soufriere Bay and set up the infamous machine in town square in front of the church to continue its rampage. At this time the revolutionaries declared the end to slavery in the French islands but soon, under Napoleon, slavery was reintroduced to reinvigorate production on the plantations. This resulted in many of the freed slaves fleeing to the hills. These Maroons, as they were called, continually raided the town destroying or damaging many buildings including the mineral baths on the Diamond Estate which were earlier commissioned by King Louis XVI for the rehabilitation of soldiers.
During Soufriere’s history, the town has been damaged many times by tropical storms with the most severe coming in 1780, 1817, 1831 and 1898. In 1839 an earthquake brought down the church steeple and more recently in 1955, half the town was destroyed by fire. It’s easy to see the results of that fire as a vast majority of the old French style buildings are amassed on the southern end of town, which was spared from the devastation.
Today Soufriere is the center of the island’s bustling tourist sightseeing activity as nearly all of the major attractions are located nearby including the Pitons, Sulphur Springs and Diamond Falls and Botanical Gardens.
Vieux Fort is one of the oldest settlements on the island of Saint Lucia having been first established by the Dutch around 1600. Its name was derived from a fort erected by Dutch sailors to protect themselves from the attack of the native Caribs. The remnants of this fort later led to the town’s name, which in English means ‘old fort’.
Numerous Amerindian sites and the remains of the once thriving sugar plantations are found in the area today. Over the centuries the influences of the Amerindians, Africans, Europeans, East Indians and Americans have given Vieux Fort, and much of the island’s south, a unique cultural and ethnic heritage that exists even today.
The Maria Islands are found just off the shore to the southeast of Vieux Fort. They are the home of two reptiles, the Saint Lucia Racer, the world’s rarest snake, and an interesting lizard called the Saint Lucia Whiptail, which are found nowhere else in the world. The islands are also a nesting place for many of the sea birds that visit our shores.
The world’s third highest light house still functions on a rugged and picturesque crag known as Moule á Chique which offers a great view of the southern half of the island. Vieux Fort is also home to the Hewanorra International Airport and our national stadium. As the island’s second largest town, Vieux Fort holds much promise for future development as it possesses the largest area of flat and open land left on our rugged isle.