Life enthusiasts living local wherever we go.
On Saturday, April 21st, The Local Foreigner felt it was important to attend Save the Magnificent Seven Flower Day 2012, in support of the restoration of Trinidad and Tobago’s historical landmarks. This event, which took place in the Savannah across from the Mille Fleurs, was organized by an activist group known as Save the Magnificent Seven, which originally consisted of just three people. This year however, the group has grown . Joined by Citizens for Conservation and the TT Art Society, members banded together under the common goal of encouraging locals and concerned citizens to take action against the deterioration of our history.
During this event, citizens, both old and young,brought flowers and bouquets to place along the front gate of Mille Fleurs.The idea behind this Flower Day was to raise awareness of the current dilapidated state of the building and to symbolize the beauty that could be if the building was restored. The ultimate goal is to rehabilitate Mille Fleurs entirely. Support was seen through the presence of media, politicians, artists, activists, civilians and the much-appreciated honking from passing cars. Across the street, a pitched tent filled with knowledgeable activists greeted The Local Foreigner. According to a member of Citizens for Conservation, Mille Fleurs seemed almost to “a point of no return,” but there is still hope.
This NGO’s roots were founded amongst friends and family who successfully protested the demolition of the “George Brown House” around the Savannah in 1985. Their efforts were acknowledged and supported by a similar organization called “Architects for Conservation” and so, Citizens for Conservation was born. In brief, their long term goal is to protect the “natural and built heritage of Trinidad and Tobago” by giving a voice to the historical monuments of this country which cannot preserve themselves. Many of the original advocates and founders; such as Christine Millar and Megan Hopkyn-Rees are still heavily involved in the activities of the organization. The number of citizens in support of conservation however, has grown significantly since 1985. Among the executive committee today are familiar names such as Geoffrey Maclean, Simone Farmer, Marrielle Ottley, Rosemary Jardine, Margaret MacDowall, Jaladin Khan and last but not least, Rudylynn De Four Roberts, the country’s only female restoration architect. To date their greatest accomplishment remains the establishment of the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago which is responsible for the listing of all buildings in the country. Prettying up old monuments however, isn’t their only objective. Citizens for Conservation also engages in other preservation projects such as the replanting of trees and educating youth via lectures, research and library services about their natural heritage.
While at the event, a very passionate supporter who preferred to remain anonymous emphasized the continuous frustrations in trying to gain government support and financing. Over the years, the changing of governmental parties and the elaborate red tape in getting agenda acknowledged has put a damper on many efforts by loyal activists. Although the government has now started restoring Stollmeyer’s Castle, the fight for giving proper care and attention and restoring more of our historical landmarks is far from over, and is one that will be fought to the end. Some members seemed almost fed-up with the apathetic handling of such a major cause, however events such as Flower Day are hopeful reminders that citizens can and will join in saving the Magnificent Seven, along with other landmarks. The supporter remarked that there is “a growing awareness, but still an inertia.” People seem to acknowledge the need for restoration, but still do nothing about it.
We took a moment to speak with guests one by one as they arrived to find out not only what motivated them to give their time to this cause, but also to come up with some ideas for what uses old Mille Fleurs could be put to. One attendee, Susan Solis confided that she cries every day for this beautiful monument which she envisions one day as a buzzing art gallery. Having been around during the days when Citizens for Conservation occupied and maintained Stollmeyer’s Castle, Jaladin Kahn understands the prospects that exist for Mille Fleurs as a working office, but also as a restaurant, or venue below which he says will allow the building to generate its own revenue. And finally, executive committee member of Citizens for Conservation, Geoffrey Maclean suggested turning Mille Fleurs into a historical monument which visitors can pay to come visit. He voiced his frustration over the great ironies of this cause: that Trinis are willing to go abroad, spend time and pay big money to appreciate the historical buildings and landmarks of another country, when we have those opportunities right here at home. What will it take for locals to appreciate their own heritage?
Whether it will become an art gallery, a restaurant, an office or a living museum is yet to be decided. For now, our efforts must be combined to bring awareness to the devastating reality of this building which we drive blindly by ever so often. To learn more about Citizens for Conservation and their ongoing work, visit their website at www.citizensforconservationtt.org or follow them on facebook to show your support at their events.