My older maternal uncle, Roy Jeremy Belisle, who passed recently at the age of 100 plus, was an office employee of Belize Estate and Produce Company (BEC) on North Front Street for many decades.
When I was 6, my parents and I were still living upstairs in my maternal grandmother Eva Lindo’s house on Church Street when the most sensational fire of my childhood broke out one night at the Harley’s store (next to James Brodies) on Albert Street. My uncle was a firefighter who fought that fire through the night. I believe I distinctly remember him coming home in the dark to change his sodden, smoky clothes. Church Street was only a couple blocks from the fire. It was raging.
The relationship between my older uncle and his younger brother, Buck, was not a smooth one. I guess Uncle Roy was more a business, corporate type, whereas Uncle Buck was more a gambler and an adventurer. Uncle Buck went to Panama at the age of 19 in 1941 and returned after World War II in December of 1946. He returned to British Honduras broke.
Uncle Roy was very kind to my mother, his younger sister. She always repeated that. And he was kind to me, which I will discuss later. I loved my Uncle Roy, but I adored my Uncle Buck. This was just the reality of it.
How Belize has changed, beloved! For me, one of the most dramatic of these changes has to do with the Haulover Creek delta on which Belize City rests, and where all our port and Customs activities used to take place until the new port was built in the Yarborough area in 1980.
Today, we are seeing a situation where three very wealthy, powerful men want to build separate cruise ship terminals in a triangular area of the sea which was very, very familiar to me growing up. Michael Feinstein has been building at Stake Bank; Lord Michael Ashcroft wants to build at the Yarborough port; and David Gegg cum partners wants to build at the Sibun River mouth some six to eight miles down the mainland coast from where the port is. This is a situation which boggles my mind.
When I was a child, I think I benefited from the fact that my family is half-European. My parents and grandparents were acquainted with the Mayo family, a white family. Mr. Mayo, whom I don’t remember, lived at the corner of West Canal and Bishop Streets, where that famous breadfruit tree survives. I understand he was a baker. I remember his daughters being Cissy and Laura, and they were treated with respect by my Hyde grandfather, James Bartlett.
As a young child, I remember my parents being allowed to vacation in a small house on the Mayo side of a caye called Spanish Caye. The other, southern half of the caye was owned by the Belisle family, from which my mother originated. Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the Mayo ladies decided to sell their half of the caye, and it was bought by my late paternal aunt, Chrystel Hyde Straughan.
Spanish Caye is about three or four miles almost directly west of English Caye and Goff’s Caye, which is where the break (“quebrado”) in the Belize Barrier Reef enables ships to enter the inner waters of Belize from the high seas.
When a ship passes through the quebrado, the ship will travel north in deep water until it meets the Water Caye beacon, from where it travels the channel west past Middle Rock, and when it meets the Spanish Caye beacon, which is about a mile and a half north of Spanish Caye, the ship can direct itself north to Belize City. There is a channel which runs from the Middle Rock area to behind Stake Bank, which created intriguing possibilities for the Stake Bank cruise ship project.
Until I left for university at the age of 18, Spanish Caye was an intimate part of my life. At the age of 14, sometime after Hurricane Hattie in 1961, my Uncle Roy made me a captain by giving me his sloop, KITTY, to sail. I used the sloop to go trolling for fish, to go diving for conch, and to travel to Belize City to buy provisions for my mom from time to time.
From Spanish Caye to Belize City is about nine and a half miles north. Stake Bank is between Spanish Caye and Belize City, on your right as you travel north. If you draw a line from the caye to the city, Stake Bank is about three miles east of the line.
The Sibun River is several miles west of Stake Bank along the coast of Belize. If you want to go to the Sibun River mouth by road, you would have to travel first to Hattieville, then to Freetown Sibun, and then you would go down the river to meet the mouth, where it enters the Caribbean Sea. From that point where the Sibun enters the Caribbean, Spanish Caye would be a few miles southeast of you; Stake Bank would be a few more miles northeast of you; and Belize City would basically be north of you.
These various cruise projects are gigantic projects, then, in a relatively tight area, an area within which I sailed all my childhood and youth. The situation among Feinstein, Ashcroft and Gegg is one which, if allowed to be taken to the limits of the investors’ imaginations, would change the ecology of the quadrilateral which includes Spanish Caye/Robinson’s Point, the Sibun River mouth, Belize City, and Stake Bank.
I met Lord Ashcroft in 1993. He is a proven predator, but a pleasant guy. I met Mike Feinstein a few months ago. He is a born Belizean, a man with a lot of “cojones,” and I respect him. I know of David Gegg. His family has been well-known in Belize for generations, but I don’t have any knowledge of his partners.
Next week I hope to tell you what the environment between Spanish Caye and Belize City was like in my youth, in an area where there are Water Caye, Stake Bank, and the Sibun River mouth. I am an extreme environmentalist, not as outrageous as Robinson Crusoe, but I am very old-fashioned. I don’t handle change well, so I have been quiet on this Feinstein/Ashcroft/Gegg hullabaloo.
What I want to do is go nostalgic, and tell you about when I sailed KITTY. Our mooring post ( “boataan”) in the Haulover Creek mouth was along Southern Foreshore almost directly in front of Mr. Eric Bowen’s family home on Bliss Promenade. This was before Coca Cola, Barry, and Belikin. Things sure have changed, Jack.
Power to the people.