River – now and then
Officials highlight noticeable difference in the state of constitution river
“Most of us who would have grown up, or went to school in this area . . . , we would all be familiar with the Constitution River being just one unsightly smelly mess. Today we see a completely different vista from the one with which we grew up.”
That was the reflection of Margaret Allman Goddard, as she summed up the contrast this river now presents at the opening ceremony of the second phase of its redevelopment last Saturday.
That difference is noticeable to those who walked Barbados in the past few decades, but a greater gap in the image of this waterway becomes evident when historian Dr Karl Watson puts the take of truly olden times on what was officially opened a week ago as a work in progress.
“The geological age of the river is difficult to tell, but Barbados is no more than 1.3 million years old, risen from the sea. So this riverbed would have been one million years old,” Watson said.
Invited to give a brief history of the Bridgetown landmark at the opening ceremony, historian said: “There is living tangible evidence of the [ancient] river . . . . If we go through the park we will see an enormous baobab tree, which is an African tree; and quite possibly, the seed of that, a thousand years ago floated across the Atlantic. The tidal reach would have brought the seed up the river into what was part of a much larger estuary.
“The tree that grows in Queen’s Park now, we calculate its age about a 1,000 years. So that’s a good indication of the reach of the river in prehistoric times,” Watson explained.
The now opened second of three phases of the Constitution River Redevelopment stopped at the Queen’s Park Bridge, and the third stage will go to the Globe Cinema, where the original sea inlet that became known as the river ended.
Watson described the river as a tidal in-reach.
“But it is also a watershed area for St Michael, and the inner parishes, St George, parts of St Thomas. And even a little bit of the drainage from Christ Church reaches down into this area.”
“There was in prehistoric times a large Amerindian population, of successive Amerindian ceramic cultures. Which is why it acquired the name Indian River. When the first English settlers came to Barbados, they apparently saw the remnants of what was the first bridge to the opening part of the Constitution River, called the Indian Bridge. And Bridgetown was known variously as the Bridge, and the Indian Bridge, specific to the geographic nature of the river.
“It was a perfectly navigable river . . . . There were many [photographs] showing vessels careened, not just in the basin careenage but actually small sailing vessels . . . that came right up the river.
“So it was a very important and key aspect to the siting of Bridgetown and where Bridgetown is located.
“When Barbados was settled, there were four competitors for towns, Speightstown, Oistins, Holetown, or what became the capital city of Barbados, Bridgetown
“And the capital city of Barbados is due to Carlisle Bay and the Constitution River that flows into the Careenage, on into Carlisle Bay.”