This past week no less than seven persons expressed concern to me about the construction of a railing around the eastern and northern perimeters of the Bank of Guyana. Most pedestrians who have ever taken a stroll around that square in the middle of which lies the Cenotaph, would know that the eastern perimeter of the Bank of Guyana consists of a raised concrete walkway alongside which is a lower pavement.
In its long history, there was never any grillwork which separated the raised walkway from the pavement. There is now and it takes away from the naturalness of the area. It tramples on history also. Security considerations could not have required that grill fence. Such a railing was never necessary, not even during the days of the gunmen who rained terror on this country. Never once was it suggested that the Bank of Guyana should erect such a barrier between their building and the pavement.
That area has been like that for as long as anyone can remember and there is no better person with a memory of what the capital city used to be like, than Godfrey Chin.
Chin wrote a fantastic book reminiscing about his time in Georgetown. But it was not an autobiography, it is more a historical narrative of the way the city used to be, of some of the popular spots, amazing individuals and prominent families that were part of the landscape of the city.
What was special about Chin’s book was that he turned the spotlight not just on the rich and the privileged middle class but also on the poorer sections of the town, and he knew a great deal about the town.
He once held a fantastic pictorial exhibition at the Umana Yana and the photographs were quite a hit with both the senior citizens, for which they brought back special memories, and also with the younger generation who were simply amazed at life back then and at the nature of the layout of the city.
Stabroek News to its credit has for many years been trying to keep alive this heritage. Each week, the paper has kept going pictures of events, places and buildings in British Guiana. They often invite individuals who have pictures of the country back then to send them in, and most of the photographs published have been about Georgetown because it was always one of the most delightful places to be in.
It is not so anymore and definitely things are changing. The old wooden city is being torn down by human progress. Concrete and glass structures are replacing the old wooden buildings, many of which stood up to the elements for a long, long time.
Piles are being driven in many vacant lots, a sure sign that some huge, multiple- level buildings will soon be erected. People are not building out of wood anymore, and they are not building small anymore. The city is being taken over by huge buildings, and mainly concrete structures; huge concrete structures.
Yet amidst the changes some attempts have been made to preserve what existed before. Republic Bank constructed a huge headquarters in New Market Street outside of the Promenade Gardens, yet went to great trouble to pump millions of dollars into the preservation of the Promenade Gardens. Some people still care about beauty and heritage.
One such person was Mr. Godfrey Chin. He was storehouse of information on Georgetown. His memory was sharp and often right about the time when he lived in Guyana and specifically in Georgetown. He made a lovely conversationalist.
Sadly it was reported that he died yesterday. Guyana has lost a true cultural icon. He was described as a social history icon. But culture is about life in all its forms and Godfrey Chin knew, appreciated and celebrated the life that he once had in Georgetown. He is thus a cultural icon.
It is very sad to know that he died since many were eagerly anticipating another book or exhibition from him, or simply a chance encounter on the streets to reminisce on the way we were, especially in this time of sweeping architectural changes in the city. He always made time to talk even to strangers.
It is sad to lose him now. But at least we can all take consolation from the fact that he did not live to see that railing erected around the Bank of Guyana. That surely would have broken his heart.
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