His family, friends, and the football community in Belize and the United States have been celebrating the life and mourning the death of the championship Belize goalkeeper of the 1970s, Rupert “Canalate” Anderson. Canalate was a special brother, and I will tell you why, at least from my personal perspective.
When my generation was growing up here in the 1950s and 1960s, the highest level of manhood in the streets of Belize City was represented by those brothers who knew how to fight with their fists. In the streets, it would be said of such a man, “Hin know ih hand.” (He knows his hands.) Canalate was one such person. Incidentally, the famous softball coach and manager, G. Raymond Lashley, who has been ailing, also enjoyed such a reputation in the streets.
You could develop a reputation for manhood by being willing to use so-called “edged tools,” but this was not the highest level of manhood: fist fighting was. If, like myself, you could neither fight with your hands or was willing to resort to edged tools, then you had to develop a kind of–”Sicilian” mentality if you wanted to survive.
The thing about Rupert, who was a very tall and athletic guy, was that he absolutely never gave off any kind of bully vibes. He was a completely pleasant and friendly person. He never tried to intimidate anyone. The only time I saw him upset to the point of being angry was when he was told that two of his teammates from the All-Belize team, one of these being the much loved Christobal Mayen, had been “stepped on” outside the Melting Pot disco by two notorious street thugs. Canalete was talking revenge.
My younger brother, Charles, has told me of a football game when Canalate became incensed after one of his teammates on Teddy Gonzales’ Spurs team was bullied by an opposing player, and Canalate chased the offending opponent all across the MCC field. I wasn’t there.
Such was Canalate’s ability and reputation as a fighter that the famous owner of the historic Continental Club, Richard “Dickie” Gardiner, had him employed as a bouncer. Dickie Gardiner himself enjoyed a lofty reputation where fighting ability was concerned.
One of the reasons fist fighting was so revered back then was because you could settle disputes without a significant risk of homicide. In colonial days in British Honduras, up until 1965, say, convictions for murder were the order of the day once anyone was killed, and conviction was always followed, 21 days later, by the gallows. This was the place where my generation grew up. There was law and order. We never contemplated murder because we were scared of hanging.
When William “Hani” Robinson was hanged in 1974, there had not been a hanging for about five years, if I remember correctly. The reason Hani was hanged was because he had killed a young policeman on Swing Bridge who was doing duty for the very first time. Hani was a petty thief, but he was a former footballer with a popular personality. Hani had no reputation for violence. All of us who knew him felt that he must have been on some strange drugs when he stabbed P.C. Antonio Aguilar to death.
After Hani, there was no hanging until the summer of 1981 when the Heads of Agreement uprisings rocked Belize. Those of us who were activists felt that this was a “message” hanging, that the Government of Belize wanted to remind everybody who was giving street trouble because of the Heads, that the gallows “back-a-Baptist” was still operational and still optional. The Thomas case was a kind of mysterious case. A father, one who had recently come to Belize from one of the Caribbean islands, was killed in his home close to the Western Highway around Mile 38 or so, on the right side as you were driving up to Belmopan. The deceased’s daughter was the only substantial prosecution witness. I personally have doubt that the case against Seymour Thomas was air tight. A contractor by the name of Warrior, with whom Thomas was employed at the time, swore to me that the Jamaican could not have been the murderer. No matter, he was hanged.
The next person to be hanged was the last person to be hanged, Noel Bowers in 1985. Again, I have questions about the circumstances of the murder incident, which took place at a classy restaurant near the old Memorial Park. But, it’s too late now to ask questions.
Ten years after Noel Bowers, young Belizean men had begun killing each other in the streets of the old capital with relative impunity. Today, a he-man like Rupert Canalate would have to be afraid of little boys with big guns. Things here have gone completely topsy turvy in the course of my generation’s lifetime.
I want to say to Canalate’s family and friends that in our sports and street circles, he was a great Belizean, a superstar. And the thing about it was that he was humble, and friendly. I have stories I could tell you about challenging conversations we had with each other. The most animated I would say was before a “bet” game between UBAD and Harlem Square. This would have been around 1971 at the old BEC field. Canalete was with Harlem Square, a squad which was organized by the late taxi driver we called “Chunga.” Rupert and I were always with opposing teams, except for one time when I was trying to put Diamond A together before the 1973/74 season. Canalate travelled with us to San Ignacio’s Norman Broaster Stadium to play against Jalil Bedran’s Mighty Avengers. (I think the Amandala editor, Russell Vellos, played in that game for Diamond A. Avengers included Pappy and David Smith, Turo Azueta, Pelis Neal, Mike Martinez, Nayo Waight, Speedy Henry, and so on.) Rupert tended the goal in the first half, but that was enough for him to see that our team was not ready for prime time. So, he moved on. He had already won championships with Landivar, and could not afford to experiment and risk his reputation. I respected that.
Rupert Canalate was a man amongst men. In the football and street community, we held him in great respect. The 1970s were the last golden years of Belize City sports, and those were the years when Canalate walked tall. He was a king amongst men, but he treated us all with kindness and respect. I will remember him.