News day / Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley hopes to move back to the Red House before the end of his political career, for two reasons.
The first reason is his love and great respect for history and affinity for “old places.”
The second reason is more practical and has to do with the acoustics in the current Parliament chamber in Tower D of the International Financial Centre in Port of Spain.
“The acoustics in the building where we are now are very poor. In Parliament now you cannot whisper. If you whisper now, you annoy the Speaker.
“In the Red House it was different, you had to be boisterous to get the Speaker’s attention.”
The practical matter is likely a valid one. Judging from the number of times the current Speaker, Brigid Annisette-George, is on her feet scolding members during sittings, it seems to be easy to pick up ambient sound.
To dine for: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley tours a restored dining room at Stollymeyer’s Castle with Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister of Community Development and the Arts.
It is the less practical issue that raises Rowley’s passion.
During the handover of Stollmeyer’s Castle to the Ministry of Community Development and the Arts, Rowley claimed an affinity for old things, old stories and rich histories.
His favourite historical place in TT is Fort King George in Scarborough, a place he described as having a chequered history, interesting artefacts and a great story.
“Just being there, looking across to Trinidad, you can picture galleons passing through, and Tobago was funny, so at one point the French and Dutch were fighting each other and looked out to see and they saw the Spanish coming,” he said.
It is this love for old things that saw him appoint himself to the Government’s committee on the restoration of heritage sites.
“It is because I grew up with old people and developed an affinity with the aged and things from the past, from stories to wrinkled features and even reflecting on my own mortality,” Rowley said.
“I always like the old places. I like Old Town Pasadena and Old Quebec and Nice in France. Before I got married, I said if I ever got married I would do one thing for and with my wife, and that was to bring her to Nice and have breakfast in Nice with my wife.”
Stollmeyer family: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley with decendents of the Stollmeyer family: (seated left to right) Gina Samaroo, Vivien Stollmeyer and Katheryn Stollmeyer. Standing alongside Dr Rowley are Douglas Morton, left, and Julian Stollmeyer.
Rowley has voiced his commitment to seeing through the restoration of the heritage projects multiple times since being elected in 2015.
These projects are the Red House, President’s House, Mille Fleurs and Whitehall.
On Thursday, he celebrated the successful completion of Stollmeyer’s Castle, the Scots-baronial architectural beauty which overlooks the grassy expanse of the Queen’s Park Savannah.
“It’s because I genuinely like history, and architectural history, especially when it is a legacy like this which is special. This building ought to be special to the people of TT,” he said of Stollmeyer’s Castle during the handover.
Bedroom comfort: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Minister of Community Development and Culture Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly are shown a restored bedroom at Stollmeyer’s Castle.
Architect Robert Gillies, who designed the building, was inspired by a wing of the British royal family’s Balmoral Castle in Scotland. It was built using materials from around the world and limestone from the Laventille hills.
The decision to restore the buildings has received both praise and criticism.
Some citizens appreciate the importance of preserving history, while others feel it should not be a priority. Rowley’s views fall in with the former.
“Some people will only focus on cost, but the question I ask is, what would have been the cost had it been allowed to collapse into rack and ruin? And the same way it is priceless in its finished state, the cost of not having restored this building would have been an indelible stain on the people of TT.
“We make it a business to be ignorant about ourselves. We like to focus on all that is bad about us and pull ourselves down and remain in perpetual ignorance of the grandeur of this country.”
He acknowledged that the restorations were taking place during a period of economic difficulty, but felt the conservation of these buildings needed to be given priority.
“Whatever it takes, we know we have what it takes to restore this place and it is being done at a time of great hardship and significant shortage. We don’t have to have surpluses to score high marks. We don’t have to be overwhelmed by riches to do things of great value. Outside of making sure our health is looked after, our education is catered for, the restoration of our national heritage is probably the third most important thing if we manage to hold on to the future as was held out to us in 1962.”
A gramophone in one of the rooms at Stollmeyer’s Castle.
To Rowley, the restoration of these buildings isn’t about dollars and cents, but about preserving a legacy that cannot be replaced.
He gave Haiti as an example of the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but said its heritage is preserved by its people.
“I hold that out to the people of TT. In our time, those of us alive today, we seem to think it is about how much we have and how much we can grab for ourselves, but it isn’t about that. It would be a stain on our generation if we take the position that we don’t have what it takes to preserve them.”
He expressed certainty that the majority of citizens would see the conservation of the heritage sites as a priority.
He said the completion of Stollmeyer’s Castle gave him confidence that a day would come when all the architectural and historic treasures of the nation would be restored to its people.