By Alex Wayne
I was indeed very excited to be heading to the mining town of Linden. Actually I had only visited Linden three times in my entire life, but the m
emory of lush green scenery, cascading hills and sprawling valleys, certainly brought on a rush of adrenaline with the very thought of it.
Soon I was in a bus, winding in and out of the busy East Bank Demerara traffic, taking in my fill of colourful cottage houses, with fruit trees of almost every kind in the yards that glided by.
As we rounded the intersection that people call the Timehri junction, I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the highway that wove in and out of lush dense foliage.
As we approached the highway, I braced myself for that exhilarating sensation as the bus seemed to dive downwards, giving that feeling as if one was soaring like an eagle. I almost screamed aloud with its intensity, as that sensation travelled up my spine, evoking the desire to giggle, or shout aloud just to ease the sensation.
But it was all over before I knew it, and soon after we began the uphill climb before finally leveling out on flat, smooth terrain.
Linden is said to be the second largest city in Guyana after Georgetown, and capital of the Upper
Demerara-Berbice region. It’s located at 6°0′0″N 58°18′0″W, with altitude at 48 metres (160 feet). It was declared a town in 1970, and includes the communities of Mackenzie, Christianburg, and Wismar.
It lies on the Demerara River and has a population of over forty thousand residents. It is primarily a bauxite mining town, containing many mines 60 to 90 metres deep, with many other pits presently not in operation.
The three villages that made up Linden were previously known as Wismar-Mackenzie-Christianburg, but was renamed/unified in 1970 as a township under the name Linden by the late President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham.
The journey was indeed tiring. It seemed as if the never ending highway was increasing in length as the bus sped on. Of course we received several jolts and bumps along the way, caused by the ‘waves’ in the highways as the driver called them.
Actually they were ‘wave like formations’ on the road caused by the shifting of the asphalt under pressure of heavy lumber trucks that often traversed the area. Without realizing it I had dozed off. I woke up the very minute the bus turned the junction in the road, where a large Digicel welcome signboard indicated that we had arrived at our destination.
As we rolled into Linden, women stood by the roadside chatting in groups, while young boys chatted noisily alongside the sandy parapets of the main access road. Older men could be seen riding bicycles, while teachers and nurses were already making their way home from a day’s toil.
The Bauxite tale
I had been certainly taken back with the picturesque view what was called Linmine. It did not look promising like years before, but the scenery was astounding.
I was very curious to learn much about Linden and its intriguing bauxite tale, and I was directed to 72-year-old, Vestus Simmons, a former supervisor when the bauxite trade was booming. He was rather excited as we sat under his home quite close to the Wismar River banks; actually he was literally beaming over his somewhat very outdated spectacles.
“Bauxite mining began in Linden more than a hundred years ago. In 1916 the Demerara Bauxite Company Limited, (DEMBA), which was a subsidiary of the Aluminium Company of Canada Limited, came into being and began mining, processing and selling bauxite in the Demerara River.
At that time Linden was not the attractive location it is today, and only had three wards, Wismar, Christianburg and Mackenzie. Actually Mackenzie was the name given to one of the wards, and it was named after an American geologist of Scottish descent, George Bain Mackenzie, who came here in search of Bauxite in 1913.
As the story goes, he returned in 1914, bought lands for mining, and built many large wooden barges to transport the bauxite to and from Three Friends Mine, which was the first mine to be opened. In those times men worked the bauxite ore with shovels and pick axes and mule carts which they used to remove the overburden.
The bauxite was shipped in its unfinished state on barges, which were towed down the river to ships midstream, then to the Georgetown harbour.
As time went by, DEMBA brought in machines to do the crushing, washing, drying, and other processes that were done to the ore before arriving at the final product. They also provided living accommodation for most of their employees.
They even developed a hospital as well. In no time the town of Makenzie was fully developed. In 1971 the Government nationalized DEMBA and soon after called it Guyana Bauxite Company Limited (GUYBAU)
The Bauxite Industry Development Company (BIDCO) was then established in 1976, in Georgetown, as the holding Company of the bauxite industry. Nationalisation also took place in Berbice in 1975 and the Reynolds Metal Company became Berbice Mining Enterprise Limited (BERMINE).
As a result, the two entities were merged in October 1977, under the name of Guyana Mining Enterprise Limited (GUYMINE). The entities were subdivided into Berbice Operations and Linden Operations. BIDCO and BERMINE were made one 1992 when the Government signed an order under the Public Corporation Act to dissolve GUYMINE and convert the Berbice Operations and Linden operations into separate entities.
Berbice Operations was then reverted to the original name of Berbice Mining Enterprise Limited (BERMINE), and the Linden Operations was renamed Linden Mining Enterprise (LINMINE).
“If I can recall directly LINMINE was placed under the management of an Australian firm, Mining and Processing Engineers – known as MINPROC for about a three years period,” Vestus Simmons said.
Livelihood of Lindeners
In years gone by most Lindeners were employed in bauxite mining which offered bountiful job opportunities, but as that thriving trade dwindled, many were forced to actually create meaningful employment. Speaking on this issue was resident Tamika Henry.
“During the bauxite days there were enough jobs for everyone, but as things became less flourishing, many were actually forced to create jobs to earn a living. Many persons took to the streets and built stalls, which is why you will see so many persons selling vegetable and ground provision all around.
“Some built cook shops too, and the younger males went off in large groups to the interior regions to try their hand at pork-knocking. Some began selling water coconuts, and you can still see signs of that today.
“Quite a number of persons began farming as a means of surviving, but not many of them were successful because of the soil type we have here in some areas. Soon came the hire cars, and mini-buses in large numbers.
“The commercial banks came too, and with it a new school, and even quite a few variety shops. So in time there were jobs for almost everyone. People do not really sit down in Linden. We are a very hard working people, and everyone would normally get up and hustle. We ain’t get lazy people here.”
The hustle and bustle never ends
As I walked through streets and alleyways, I was caught up in the car horns blaring, and the cries of vendors trading fruits or vegetables. Girlish peals of laughter pierced the air as young school girls huddled together certainly not discussing anything academic.
Every now and then one of them would burst out in laughter.
On the bus parks touts, conductors and drivers were darting to and fro soliciting passengers, and the spectacle was the same at parks reserved for taxi and hire cars. I have certainly never seen so many food stalls in one location, all booming loud music from stereo boxes.
Males gathered around in large groups playing card and sipping on rather chilled beers or in some cases stronger spirits. The small hair salons seemed filled to capacity with the Linden divas having manicures, facials, or some getting the most extraordinary weave additions or extensions.
The coconut vendors were making the best of the rush hour crowds, and all around they were stuffing dollar bills into their pockets as thirsty residents rush to purchase this nourish ‘cool down’ supplement.
On the river banks, a large crowd had gathered at the ‘Nedd’s Wings and Chip’ outlet where delicious selling chicken wings and potato chips were being fried to perfection.
This open cooking really impressed me, and their presentation was certainly of the best. From the well attired very busy staffers to the sound of tender juicy wings in scorching hot deep oil, this fast food outlet was doing everything it could to keep its many supporters.
I was informed by employees that a mobile chicken outlet is also available for major outdoor events. At nights the streets are filled with either persons searching for a place to revel, or maybe ‘tek a lil drink’, as the older folks would put it over.
Linden as of old
As suggested from information taken from www.google.com , Linden was the complete opposite of what it appears to be today.
Christianburg, located on the west bank of the Demerara River is Linden’s first settlement, and was known as Stabroek in the 19th century. Originally, a Dutch settlement, the inhabitants were mostly involved in balata and rubber bleeding and later the planting of sugarcane. It was later renamed Christianburg in honour of Governor Christian Finette who joined his first name with his wife’s family name Burg.
Wismar is also located on the west bank of the Demerara River and owes its origin and name to German migration during the period 1830-1840, when over 500 German migrants ventured on to the shores of British Guiana after the emancipation of the enslaved Africans.
Many of the migrants died while on the lower coast of British Guiana, those who lived moved up the Demerara River settling at Wismar. Wismar became a vital central point for the men and women (Pork-knockers) who plied the gold and diamond areas of the Essequibo-Potaro district./
It was also the headquarters of Sproston’s Limited, the company that operated a steamer service from Georgetown to Wismar.
In 1916, with the discovery of bauxite, the economic balance shifted among the settlements and major activities were now occurring at the new settlement on the east bank of the Demerara River, known as Mackenzie. Mackenzie was named after the geologist Mr. George Bain Mackenzie.
It has been suggested that Mr. Mackenzie secured the area for mining operations under the pretence of cultivating oranges on the land. Some historians go as far as saying that “he stole the land.”
Mackenzie became popular when the Demerara Bauxite Company Limited (DEMBA), a subsidiary of the Aluminium Company of Canada (ALCAN), invested in the settlement, and the population of the area increased significantly with the production of bauxite.
DEMBA’s contributions to the community were numerous ranging from construction of schools, churches, clubs, a hospital, a recreational hall, and houses for employees.
On April 19, 1967, the Local Authority established a Supernumerary Constabulary whose members were constituted as Town Constables. On April 29, 1970, the town of Linden was constituted with an area of about 89 square kilometres (34.36 square miles).
Historical Land Marks
The olden days of Linden are still reflected in many historical features. The “Linden Museum of Socio-Cultural Heritage” is located in the centre of Linden and displays artifacts and pictures of the culture and heritage of the Linden community.
One can also certainly still visit the site of Gluck Island which is an uninhabited island off Rockstone in the Essequibo River. It is situated at a distance of some 70 km from the Essequibo River mouth. It can be viewed as an eco-tourist destination site. It has several species of birds, animals and flora.
One can still visit the site of the Christianburg Waterwheel located on Burnham Drive, Christianburg, Linden. This feature was installed as part of a hydro-powered sawmill on the plantation some time during the latter half of the 1800s.
This hydro-powered sawmill was needed to improve the production of logs and reduced the cost associated with it. It is regarded as one of the earliest engineering structures to be built in the town.
This landmark also dictates that the waterwheel was built by Mirrlees, Tait & Watson from Glasgow, and the company’s name is embossed and can be seen numerous places along the structure. This company started as an engineering partnership to manufacture sugar cane processing machinery in 1840.
It was known then as P. and W. McOnie. Over the years, partnerships with other individuals caused changes in the company’s name; in 1858 it became Mirrlees & Tait, and in 1868 it was renamed Mirrlees, Tait & Watson. The hydro-powered sawmill ceased operations in the 1950s, however the waterwheel still remains as a tangible reminder and part of Linden’s industrial heritage.
The Watooka Guest House is still a dream to behold. This three-storey early 20th century colonial building, started out as a privately owned establishment. During the early 1900s, it was renovated by the Demerara Bauxite Company (DEMBA) to accommodate its managers.
In the 1940s, it was renamed Watooka House, the name Watooka originating from the nearby Watooka Creek. The front façade of the guest house faces the Demerara River, whilst access can be gained from Casuarina Drive, Mackenzie.
Architectural features on the first and second floors include the wide overhangs, enclosed corridors on most facades, extended galleries, dormer and jalousied windows. The guest house has a pool which was once considered one of the finest in Guyana
The St. Mathews Church can be remembered as quite an attraction. It was established in November 25, 1898. It was constructed by the Presbyterians. The church is located on Burnham Drive, Christianburg, and it is said by residents to have played an important role in the cultural and social development of the community.
Villagers still rave about the St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, one of the earliest churches in Linden. It was established in 1897 at Malai, a settlement located up the Demerara River. It was then moved to a new building, across the river to Burnham Drive, Wismar, in 1913.
The first church building was originally a dance hall. This church was consecrated by Bishop Swaby in 1913, but was later dismantled and rebuilt in 1941. The second church, a colonial style building was dismantled in 1968, and the third church built in 1969.
The famous Blue Lake at Linden caused me to remain riveted at its glorious beauty. I could barely resist plunging in but decided against it when my chaperone informed that a few people with excitement had plunged in and never surfaced. This sent shudders up my spine and I unconsciously retreated a few steps away from this rather enthralling spectacle
Thought to be the remains of an old bauxite mine, the lake was, according to locals, immeasurably deep in places and got its color from the sky’s reflection against the white sandy bottom. This very mystical feature is one that ignites awe and amazement from those that are privileged to visit.
Join us next Sunday, when Alex Wayne puts on his slacks and sandals to delve into the nooks and crannies of Bush Lot, West Coast Berbice.
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