Wed | May 22, 2019

Alma MockYen | National Heroes Park excellent choice for new Parliament building

Published:Friday | April 26, 2019 | 12:31 AM
Design Collaborative’s winning design for the new Parliament building.

I strongly disagree with The Gleaner’s editorial of April 2, 2019, ‘Genius design, but better on King’s House land’, in which it was suggested that King’s House land would be a better site for the proposed new Parliament building.

Let me state my bias clearly. I grew up on Torrington Road, the connecting pathway from what was then called Race Course to Torrington bridge. I travelled the arc of the circle that roadway makes to Wolmer’s Girls’ School in the years 1941-1946, and it remains precious in my memory.

Torrington, mentioned in the editorial, was the demarcating line between what, in those days, comprised uptown and downtown.

Race Course has a long and varied history, going through name changes. A check might take one back to the days of 1891, when it was the venue of a large international exhibition, declared open by the Prince of Wales (later King George V). A commemorative set of postal stamps was pressed to highlight the exhibition. Then to its days as a horse-racing field (the Caymanas of its time), then to when it was the venue of bicycle racing, where my grandfather ran his last race at age 88 and proudly came dead last, but to applause, completing the laps (on his down-handle bike) in a race of which the winner was 61 years of age and almost all the other contestants were under 50 years old.

Race Course was the setting of the Salvation Army’s Easter-morning services. I think the wooden grandstand still stands. They were called sunrise services.

On May 8, 1938, Alexander Bustamante, before a crowd of roughly 7,000 strong, challenged the then governor, Sir Arthur (I think) Denham, when he told the crowd, “Long live the king, but Denham must go!”.

In 1939, while most of us were blithely singing Judy Garland’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow, an official announcement was made from Race Course that Jamaica was to have it first radio station developed from John Grinan’s gift to the Government of his famous ham station, VP 5 PZ.

FIRST RADIO ANNOUNCEMENT

On the evening of November 17, 1939, Sir Arthur Richards, governor of Jamaica (1938-43), spoke over loudspeakers erected so that the public might hear the first official broadcast made in this island, informing the public that local radio had begun. The Gleaner reported on the broadcast and gave an edited version of Governor Richards in their newspaper of November 18, 1939, page one.

Race Course later became George VI Park (in honour of the monarch of the era, the present English Queen’s father (whom she succeeded when he died of tuberculosis in 1952).

Still later, moving on through the years, it was renamed National Heroes Park, but it remained the northern boundary of Kingston proper. Even now, to many, it still is a kind of demarcating space between uptown and downtown and, in my view, should remain so.

The Race Course of my youth was the venue, in the late 1940s through to the early 1950s, of performances by world-renowned artistes such as the celebrated African-American contralto Marian Anderson and baritone Paul Robeson, who gave free concerts there which the ‘masses’ enjoyed. Louis Armstrong, the great ‘Satchmo’ with horn and handkerchief, performed there as well, and careful research will reveal other events of significance that took place on the area now scheduled to become the setting of Jamaica’s new Parliament building.

If you have read this far, I think you will understand my passionate support for the choice of the former Race Course as the place where Jamaica’s Parliament should meet to plan, discuss and formulate the fortunes of this, our precious and unpredictable little island.

National Heroes Park – excellent choice, I think, not simply to bury our heroes but also to honour strands of our past!

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