island lay just a short distance from the mainland. It was narrow
with two small hills, one at either end. It was lit by the fiery
red of the setting sun as it spread its color across the western
sky. The glow was caught by the puffy, slow-moving clouds and
reflected onto the sea below. From the beach, a canoe slipped
into the water and headed out into the bay. The canoe had been
shaped from the trunk of a tall gommier tree. In it were two
men from one of the Arawak villages an Iouanaloa, the big island.
In their language, the name meant 'Land of the Iguanas'. The
men had spent all day fishing and exploring. They had a small
catch of fish and some juicy red fruits they had gathered from
the cactus bushes on the small island.
also had a few large shells that they had taken from the sea-grass
bed close to shore. Now they were ready to go home. Their women
would be waiting with tasty stew made from the crabs they caught
in the mangrove swamps the night before. They would eat well.
Then they would throw herbs on the fire, climb into their hammocks
and sleep. The herbs would make a thick, sweet-smelling smoke
that would drive the mosquitoes away. Behind them in the dusk,
the little island was only a black shape against the darkening
sky. Small, quick, black bats swooped from a cave high up on
one of the slopes. They swirled through the sky, making a meal
of the insects that were there in such numbers. The evening
air was perfumed with the scent of wild frangipani and filled
with the noise of crickets and tree frogs. far out, in the dark
waters of the channel, a school of porpoises passed. They leap
and turned, sometimes somer-saulting clear out of the water,
as they made their way north. There was no one there to see
them. The little island was uninhabited. There was no fire to
cast its warm light against the shadows. Only the fireflies,
flickering through the bush, lit up the scene with their pinpoints
Le Gros Ilet
group of Amerindians called the Caribs came to Iouanaloa from
the islands further south. Some of them made a camp at the southern
end of a small island. From here they paddled their canoes across
the bay to raid the Arawak villages on the mainland. However,
after many conflicts, the Caribs moved on. Their camp in the
cave on the small island was abandoned. The bats that hung high
in the craggy corners and the crabs that hid among the stones,
now had it to themselves.
War from the sea
hundreds of years, the Amerindians were Saint Lucia's only inhabitants.
They lived in small groups, usually on the coast close to a
river. They made canoes, carved from the trunks of gommier trees.
In them, they paddled around the coast fishing and gathering
shellfish. Broken pieces of their pottery have been found around
the village of Gros Islet. This tells us that they must at one
time have had a camp here. In those days the hills would have
been covered with trees. The mangrove swamp would have been
so large it would have taken up most of the flat land behind
the bay. Ducks and waterfowl lived among its tangled roots and
herons nested in the branches. Pelicans and boobys dived into
the sea around the nearby island, catching fish. The island
had once been a Carib camp. Later it became a hide out for pirates.
They would sail in and anchor in the sheltered waters close
to shore. On old maps the place is marked 'le Gros Islet' which
is French for the big island. When the English Admiral Rodney
built his fort there the name was changed to Pigeon Island.
At fist the Caribs tried to drive off the strangers who came
to the island. They shot at them with poison-tipped arrows and
with burning sticks but they could not win. The strangers came
in tall ships with billowing sails. Their ships were armed with
over a hundred years the invaders fought fiercely among themselves
for possession of Saint Lucia. During that time the island was
taken, first by one and then the other, as control passed between
Britain and France no less than fourteen times. The bay at Gros
Islet was a good anchorage and both, French and English ships
sailed in and out. In 1781, French troops, led by the Marquis
de Bouille, captured Gros Islet. Rodney from his strong hold
on Pigeon Island, forced them retreat. Then, in 1793, the French
Republic claimed all the French territories in the Caribbean.
They renamed all the towns and villages in the island. Gros
Islet became 'la Revolution'. Not too long after this, the British
took over once again and the village went back to its old name.
Today the Amerindians would no longer recognise the place.
flat land covered with small thorny bushes and dry grass. It
is grazed by cattle and goats. The swamp is gone. In its place
is a marina full of yachts and power boats from all over the
world, as well as hotels, apartments, restaurants and bars.
Pleasure craft motor through the narrow channel loaded with
old maps of Saint Lucia show Vigie, where the airport is now,
to be the site of an old fort. Nearby, in a small creek or inlet,
boats were pulled up to have their bottoms cleaned or repaired.
A place where this is done is usually called the CARENAGE.
After a while, the inlet and the settlement that grew up around
both became known by this name. The fort had been built by a
group of Frenchmen who came to Saint Lucia in 1651 hoping to
make the island their home. They knew the Caribs had wiped out
a colony of several hundred Englishmen just eleven years before.
They did not want to end up the same way. They brought cannons
to arm the fort and dug a moat all around to make it secure.
Their leader, de Rousselan, had married a Carib woman so at
first the Indians did not trouble them. But after, his death
in 1654, the Caribs killed three French Governors, one after
the other. Then the quarrels began between the French and the
English over ownership of Saint Lucia. For 100 years or more
they fought over it. Finally, in 1763, the 'Treaty of Paris'
gave the island to the French. They immediately began to build
roads and establish their plantations. They shipped the sugar,
cocoa, coffee, spices and other crops they grew to markets in
Europe. It was decided to move the little town of Carenage to
a more protected place.
townspeople chose a site on the banks of the river that flowed
into the Petit Cul de Sac Bay. Warehouses and other buildings
were put up and a wharf was built for canoes and long-boats
to tie up alongside. In 1767, the people of le Carenage began
to move into their new home. By 1778, the English and French
were at war again and England once more took over the island.
Then, in 1780, a terrible hurricane struck. It flattened crops,
destroyed buildings and killed thousands of people. Only two
houses in the old town were left standing. The Marquis de Castries
advised King Louis XVI to get Saint Lucia back at all costs.
In 1783 a new treaty was drawn up, the 'Treaty of Versailles.
This forced the English to hand the island back which made the
French colonists very happy. They wrote to the king asking him
to reward the Marquis. In 1785, the capital was renamed Castries
in his honour but on some old maps it is still shown as le Carenage,
or le Petit Cul de Sac.
Castries in the 19th
came the period of the French revolution. In France, the king
and many of his followers were beheaded. The revolutionaries
even travelled overseas to continue their fight. In Saint Lucia,
many churches, estate houses and other buildings were destroyed.
Plantations were abandoned and the slaves ran away. Their masters
were forced to do the same, or be killed by the soldiers of
the New Republic. Castries bringing fresh water into the town.
In 1885, the first copy of the Voice of Saint Lucia was printed
and in 1894, the first stones for the Cathedral of the Immaculate
Conception and for Government House were laid. In September
1898, just before the end of the century, another violent storm
hit the island. many buildings in the town were damaged, but
they soon went up again, stronger and better than before.
Ordeal by fire
of the buildings in Castries were made of wood. Lumber was cheap
and wooden house could be put up very quickly. It was also easy
to move. This was important because not many people owned the
land on which their houses stood. Wooden houses however, had
their faults. They could be blown down in a hurricane or catch
fire and burn to the ground in minutes. Most cooking was done
on an open fire and houses were lit by candles or oil lamps.
There were often accidents. Fire would quickly blaze out of
control, destroying the house where they started as well as
others nearby. As the town grew, the houses became more numerous
and more tightly packed. On May 14 1972, a fire started at night
in the business quarter of Castries. It soon spread from one
building to the next until half of the town was a smoking black
ruin. The Post Office, the Government buildings and many private
homes were all destroyed. So were most of the business houses.
Very few people had insurance so a relief fund was started to
help the victims to rebuild. Still more trouble lay ahead. In
1948, an even bigger fire destroyed all but a small part of
started in the tailor's shop, perhaps from a candle that had
fallen over. The flames consumed the tailor's small wooden shack
and quickly reached the buildings on either side. There was
a strong wind. It fanned the fire and helped it to burn fiercer
and faster. When the sun rose on the morning of June 20 it shone
down on a black, smoking wasteland. Just the day before, these
ruins had been the town of Castries. The Post Office and the
Court house were once again demolished as well as most other
Government buildings. The books in the carenegie Library were
nothing but ashes, just like the goods in the burnt-out stores.
But the Cathedral was saved, so was St. Joseph's Convent and
St. Mary's College. The college moved to one of the old military
barracks at Vigie. The Convent burned to the ground eleven years
later. The fire left more than two thousand people homeless.
Columbus Square was piled high with furniture and other belongings
that had been snatched from the blaze. It took much longer for
the town to recover this time, but it did. Like the mythical
phoenix rising up from the ashes of its funeral pyre, Castries
was built up once again.
harbour the French called le Petit Cul de Sac, or le Carenage,
became 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 among the mangroves for oysters. During wars between
the French and English, fleets of ships had sailed into the
harbour. They anchored in the deeper water and put longboats
over the side for the men to go ashore. Castries was a trading
centre. Merchant vessels brought passengers and goods to the
island and loaded up with produce from the estates. They paid
a tax of a penny a ton if they were 50 tons or more. four pence
a ton if there were less. For water they paid two pence a trip.
If they were under 50 tons or registered in Castries, they paid
six pence for half a year. The taxes were collected by a Town
Warden appointed by Government. In 1851, a Town Council was
elected and HH Breen became the first Mayor of Castries. This
Council controlled the wharves until 1871. Then, it was decided
that money collected for harbour taxes belonged to the whole
colony, not just to Castries. By the end of that century steamships
had replaced the old fashioned sailing ships.