History of Point Fortin
by C. B. Mathison
Just one month ago, the St. Patrick County Council accepted a motion for consideration of Government, to raise Point Fortin to the status of a borough. What is Point Fortin? Point Fortin is a growing township, known throughout the length and breadth of the territory of Trinidad and Tobago as the home of Shell Trinidad Limited, and its industrial activities centre around producing, refining and marketing oil.
This growing township, which can be seen today, did not have the semblance of what it takes to make a village in the beginning of the twentieth century. What then did exist? Strangely enough, three distinct and separately owned cocoa and coconut estates, stretching half way across the area now known as Point Fortin. The names of these estates were: LA FORTUNEE, situated due west; CLIFTON HILL, to the east; and ADVENTURE, centred between the two. All three were bounded on the north by the sea, and each of them was only partly cultivated, the main crops being cocoa and coconut.
La Fortunee Estate, by good fortune, was bounded on the north and west by the sea, and because of its natural boundaries, was the most cultivated. Coconut trees grew profusely on the coast; while cocoa trees, shaded by the exuberant Immortelle, flourished inland. However, Deep South, the land of all three estates remained in virgin forest.
These three estates provided employment for a limited number of persons; all of who dwelt in plantation style barracks rooms, provided by the estates. As there was no shop, and no village near enough for them to go to buy their foodstuff, the labourers depended upon the estates for supplies of groceries, and other supplies of groceries, and other items, as a charge against their wages.
It was early in the twentieth century, in 1907, that the Trinidad Oilfields Limited moved to Point Fortin in its quest for oil, and spudded its first well on the La Fortunee Estate on 1st May 1907. This Company purchased the Clifton Hill Estates and purchased by this Company, and at the same time, it acquired a mining lease from the Crown in respect of the adjacent lands to the east. This Company also leased the mineral rights in the two neighbouring estates, La Fortunee and Adventure, west of their Clifton Hill holdings.
Nothing is known of the origin of the name of Point Fortin, except that it was French, spelt POINTE FORTIN, and pronounced locally FORTAY. However it is believed that it was first used on Maps of Trinidad to indicate geographically the north west point of La Fortunee Estate. As the sea was the only means of transport in the early days, the name Pointe Fortin became better known than that of any single estate in the area. The Oil Company started its activities on this point; therefore, it was no surprise that Pointe Fortin was generally accepted as the place of Company’s operations.
As can be expected, the local people who were accustomed to use the French name, continued to do so during the early stages of Company’s operations; but Company’s staff, being predominately British, dropped the ‘e’ from the word Pointe in the official and private correspondence, and in conversation pronounced “tin” in Fortin like the word tin, the metal.
The inhabitants have long grown accustomed to use the English pronunciation, which today is in constant use. It was undoubtedly the merging of these three estates into one common operational unit, destined for the functions of the Oil Company, which gave birth to the district known as Point Fortin, and the subsequent township that was to emerge from it.
Development of the village has in a great measure followed the extension or curtailment of the Company’s operations. Even today, certain improvements can be correlated to some particular period of expansion by the Company. There were no public buildings, and no public authority has ever been responsible for any development programme. Whatever progress has been achieved must be credited in the first place to the sagacity of private individuals, and in the second place to the generosity of the Oil Company.
While many physical improvements were taking place, population was increasing. However, these were not the only noticeable changes; the change from agriculture to industry, and the many resultant changes, was no less striking.
To examine more closely the industrial advancement, and the progress in Point Fortin over the years, one must necessarily go back to the days when the first Oil Company started its operations.
The technical experts had no sooner moved into Point Fortin when a perceptible flow of labour and materials followed. Construction commenced not only on a vast scale, but also with great rapidity. Up went dwelling houses, plant and machinery. A jetty was constructed; a railroad built; pipeline laid; tanks and derricks erected; and the flow of oil commenced.
In those early days, labour was in great demand, and recruitment of skilled labour, which was vital to the operations of the Oil Company, offered many difficulties, and posed a major problem.
The flow of labour to Point Fortin consisted of all kinds who came from anywhere and everywhere. Labour contingents were recruited in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando, but the demand was always greater than the supply.
The administrative and technical staffs of the Company were all European expatriates, mainly from the United Kingdom. Drillers were however drawn from the United States of America. Unfortunately, the first group of drillers who came to Point Fortin was a crude bunch, which had its effect on the morality in the village. These drillers were quickly replaced by a much better type, and later, with the advent of families, the community eventually adjusted itself as time went by.
The white collared worker whose services were difficult to obtain, received a small degree of preferential treatment, at least better than other employees, both in wages and housing accommodation. His counterpart the artisan was considered and treated no better than the laborer. He was accommodated in a cheap type of barrack room, and received less wages, based on a lower scale of pay.
Apart from attractive wages and semi furnished living accommodation, which consisted of a barrack room with little furniture, no special considerations were given to any local employee. Labour was scarce, and it was not uncommon for a workman to be dismissed by the Refinery and within a few hours of his dismissal, to be re-engaged for work in the Fields. The demand for labour at this time brought many people to Point Fortin, which was then regarded as the land of the El Dorado.
One may wonder how people got in and out of Point Fortin. Here it may be of interest to record that there was no public road transport, therefore, the only means of conveyance open to the public between Point Fortin and the outside world, was by the Gulf Coastal Steamer. This was a Government operated service, which plied between San Fernando and Icacos, four days in each week, calling at intermediate Gulf Ports. Its schedule was arranged so that it should connect with the railway passenger’s service at San Fernando.
At Point Fortin there was no public jetty alongside which this Costal Steamer could berth, so that invariably it rested at anchorage as close to the shore as tide would permit. Of course, when seas were rough, at certain seasons of the year, traffic was usually at a stand still.
It was the practice to use a large rowboat to convey passengers from ship to shore and vice versa. When traffic was heavy, it was not uncommon to see a curious assortment of cargo consisting of crates, boxes, barrels, trunks, suit-cases, and all sorts of odd containers; men, women and children, all huddled together with sheep, goats and other animals standing or squatting on whatever item of cargo offered best accommodation. This rowboat was always manned by a team of husky, able-bodied seamen, which would row towards the shore to a point where the bow of the boat would touch the sand. The boat was then tied to a stake on shore when unloading would immediately commence. Human freight was usually discharged first, but this was done in a manner influenced by the passenger’s capacity to tip the boatman.
When the Oil Company decided to step out eastward, only two Government roads existed over which materials could be transported, yet not heavy materials because of weak timber bridges. To use these roads even for light transport meant traveling from Point Fortin along the Guapo-Cap-de-Ville Road all the way to the Cedros/Erin Junction and continuing through the Southern Main Road east to the Parrylands Junction. To avoid these additional eight miles, the Oil Company immediately set about constructing a road which ran right across the three estates and Crown Lands, linking the Guapo-Cap-de-Ville Road in Point Fortin with the Southern Main Road at Paynter’s Hill. This is the road, which is today known as MAIN ROAD, and was the only road in Point Fortin for many years.
This main road was always controlled by the Oil Company. A barrier and a guardhouse were erected at each end, and an estate constable kept continuous duty to ensure that those who used the road had been authorized to do so.
Later when private motor vehicles commenced to use the road, a toll was levied. This went on for years before the barriers and guardhouses were removed. Now the road belongs to the public and any one can use it to come into Point Fortin without let or hindrance.
Life in Point Fortin in those early days were both dull and uninteresting. After work on evenings, one had perforce to go to one’s living quarters. There was no opportunity for sport or entertainment. Those who felt the need for exercise would wend their way to the sea that offered the only means of leisure and relaxation. Whenever the tide was low, a walk on the beach or a game of “bat and ball” was always a good pastime.
Owing to the absence of suitable equipment for the control of the flow of oil from wellheads, much of the precious liquid flowed down plantation drains. This created a source of danger to the cultivation, which perished in its wake.
The economic emphasis at the time was agriculture, and all agricultural pursuits, quite naturally predominated. One could never conceive of the idea of cutting down a healthy cocoa tree: and as more cultivation was cut down to make way for plant and machinery, in the fast moving industrialization process.
Housing accommodation was very scarce and nearly all workers had to leave their wives and families behind when coming to work in Point Fortin, where they lived as bachelors. The Company had erected only a limited number of houses for its staff, and barracks for the essential labour force. Accommodation remained at a premium even though all the estate barracks had been brought into service.
The demand for living accommodation could not be over emphasized, and so great it was that the landlords prepared a portion of uncultivated lands into house lots. These lots were quickly taken up, and within a very short space of time a sort of Shanty Town was in the making of Packing cases of all description were salvaged from the Stores and around the Fields, and other serviceable material which was obtainable, were used to help in the building scramble.
A few shacks had no sooner been built than the Chinese Shopkeeper sought to establish himself. Down to Point Fortin he moved with his provision store, not failing to bring his liquor stocks with him. This was the first visible sign of a growing village.
Very soon wells were being drilled at Parrylands and Lot 10 and with the progressive expansion of the Company’s operations, Point Fortin showed a significant change. Most noticeable was the industrial lay out to the west, in close proximity to the sea. And, while not by any means as imposing, but likewise noticeable, was a village in the making, mostly concentrated on the boundary between La Fortunee and Adventure Estates, and not far removed from the industrial compound of the Company.
The village grew, and expanded tremendously. It is interesting to recall the several names given to the residential areas by the residents themselves, each little district bearing its own name, with some adding the word “village”. The names recorded in the early days were: New Lands, Tank Farm, Clifton Hill, Frisco, Up-the Line, and others since forgotten. Clifton Hill is the only one, which has retained its original name, perhaps because of its association with the estate, called by the same name. Within recent years, other residential areas have developed, and these too have been given names, e.g. Mahica, Techier Village, Egypt Village, of which are in Point Fortin.
A custodian of law and order, the Police were the first to establish they. In quick time a Police Station was built to house a reasonable size complement. Next, a Post Office became necessary to relieve the Oil Company of the responsibility of handling private mail. These two and a steamer’s Depot were the only Government institutions in Point Fortin for a long time.
Pay Day was once a fortnight, and payday meant market day. Payday was always a big event, and there was always considerable movement. The itinerant peddler who traveled all the way from Port-of –Spain and San Fernando to hawk his wars, would see to it that these were exposed in a most conspicuous manner on the roadside. The peddler was always patronized and did not seem to mind duly the fierce competition to which they were subjected on paydays.
The trend of events which had already begun to change the face of Point Fortin had in the early twenties, unmistakably indicated that agriculture was being obviously making room for the crushing industrial advance.
During the world depression of 1929 and following years, everything stood still. Even essential company operations were sometimes deferred. This dark period saw the shutting in of the producing wells in the Point Fortin field, and closing down of the field as a Production Area. Naturally, was will be expected, the village of Point Fortin felt the impact of this depression with severe consequences. Everything remained in “status quo.”
Changes in capital holdings brought automatic changes in policy, and with it changes in administration and personnel. The Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company took over the management of the United British Oilfields in 1929 and started forthwith to introduce a more systematic control of the entire operational methods of the Company. However, it was not until late in 1931 that Point Fortin again saw visible signs of economic progress. It was then that preliminary preparations were being made for the expansion of the Refinery and the construction of a new jetty. These two projects, which took approximately two years to complete, resulted in a significant change in the development and progress of the village.
During the construction of the new processing plant and its subsidiary plants electric power station, etc., in the Refinery area, much labour was used. Realising that thousands of dollars worth of plant and machinery were being constructed, and very expensive equipment installed without qualified or trained local personnel to operate and maintained them, the Company embarked on a training programme. Qualified artisans received specialized training for the purpose of taking over the running and maintenance of the refinery equipment.
The wages of these trained artisans increased in proportion to their responsibility, and the Company set about improving its housing accommodation, giving a better overall standard of living to those artisans who were fortunate enough to secure the more highly skilled and better-paid mechanical jobs. The artisan built up a prestige equal to his white-collared colleagues. It was at this period that the significant and impressive changes resulting from the change from agriculture to industry came into focus.
Almost coincident with the expansion of the Refinery Company acquired the oil rights title in the two privately owned estates – La Fortunee and Adventure – west of their Clifton Hill holdings. It should be noted that the mineral right were already vested in the Company so that it now virtually controlled all the lands in Point Fortin. This acquisition meant that all boundaries and lines of demarcation were completely swept away, and henceforth all movements for company operations were comparatively simple.
Cocoa and coconut trees, which once swayed proudly in the breeze, were cut down completely and never to be planted again. This clearing, which ostensibly made way for the refinery expansion, changed the entire panorama. The once familiar and picturesque poui, and luxuriant immortelle flowers, which is season decorated the verdant foliage of the cocoa plantations, were replaced permanently by tanks and buildings, whose drab contours offered a happy hunting ground to the huntsman and his dog, was cleared and utilized for modern settlements.
The labour disturbances of 1937 were a turning point in the history of South Trinidad, and Point Fortin could not escape the effects. Shortly afterwards, the aspect of Point Fortin began in the Company’s activities had already created an urgent demand for more housing. Company houses were going up as rapidly as possible in Mahica and Techier, giving accommodation to hundreds of workmen and their families. These houses were supplied with electricity gas and potable water, facilities which are provided only in a modern city – a wonderful improvement over the barrack room system, which existed in the early days.
In addition to the Company’s efforts in building better dwelling houses, private enterprise was also quite alert, and better homes spring up like mushrooms in every void and vacant space in the village. As more accommodation became available, more families moved in, and population soared. By this time all cultivation had disappeared and Point Fortin was no longer an agricultural district.
One of the great problems, which confronted the early settlers, was education for their children. It was through the generosity of the landlords that a condemned stable was renovated and put into service as a schoolhouse, the first in Point Fortin. The Church of England provided the teachers, two to the exact, who taught in this school building was erected to accommodate 450 children. As population increased, the demand for school places became urgent, and again it was the Church of England who rebuilt their school, which had, be removed from the Company’s industrial area. This time they enlarged it to accommodate 650 children. The opening of this school was a big event in the history of Point Fortin; it certainly was grand affair. The school was blessed by his Lordship the Bishop of Trinidad, and opened by His Excellency, Sir Hubert, Governor of Trinidad and Tobago.
It was a long time afterwards that the Roman Catholic erected their Intermediate School in Mahica. By this time the crying need for school places to satisfy the mounting demands of an increasing population, had begun to solicit a little sympathy from Government, and the Egypt Village Government School was erected. Later, to still further relieve the situation, the Indian Community also erected an Elementary School in Bryce Road. Although the educational facilities have increased considerable during the last decade, the situation is still acute, and there are many children who have not been enrolled in the Elementary Schools, because of lack of space.
Today the village proudly boasts of three Elementary Schools, one intermediate School, and one College. In addition to these Government and State-aided Schools, there are several Private Schools, which train children from the kindergarten stage. Also available are night classes where the teaching of commercial and extra mural subjects has become increasingly popular.
There is also a Technical School for apprentices. Pupils for this school are drawn fro all parts of the Territory. This was formerly the Shell Trade School, until the Shell Company handed it over to the Government, and the Ministry of Education is now running it.
The start of the Second World War found Point Fortin a valuable source of oil supply to the war effort. What a contribution! Point Fortin was forthwith made a fortress, manned by His Majesty’s Royal Artillery. Two six-inch guns defended the approaches to the Refinery. A part-time volunteer force made up of employees of the Company was specially trained to man these guns, and to served until the cessation of hostilities, even though full-time troops, locally trained, were posted in the Refinery.
Within recent years there have been very important changes, all pointing towards the betterment of the existing public facilities and amenities. One very welcome and notable change is the projected extension of the Village by the addition of the hundred-acre block, which Shell Trinidad Limited handed over the Government for a housing settlement. Though the area is not yet fully developed, Government have been assisting members to the public to build homes on his block under their Aided Self-Help Scheme. Shell Trinidad Limited have also generously assisted n this direction, and to date, approximately fifty houses have been erected on lands of and around this hundred-acre block.
By arrangement with the Oil Company, Government has recently taken over the roads of the Village. They have also taken over the entire Village. They have also taken over the entire Village of Techier, thereby accepting responsibility for future maintenance and upkeep of all Village roads. Considerable repairs are now being done to these roads, and a ride around them brings the visitor face to face with many of the modern and up-to-date amenities of which the inhabitants of Point Fortin can feel proud.
Commence with recreation and amusement, and compare the playing field “Up-the-Line” in the twenties, with the playgrounds and sporting facilities, which come within easy reach of the youth of the Village. The Coronation Park, the only public playing field, is a fine ground, with room for football and cricket.
There are also courts for tennis, basketball and netball. The Mahaica Park, with its pavilion and beautiful bamboo fence, enclosing the entire grounds, compare most favourably with the best in South Trinidad. First Class and representative games played on these grounds offer entertainment and amusement to the entire population, south of San Fernando.
Sports teams of Point Fortin have always been in the forefront. For years the first class football team has won the coveted trophy presented by the Trinidad Football Association, emblematic of football supremacy in the Island. Sports teams of Point Fortin are always in the news, and are always making headlines.
In addition to the several clubs, which offer a variety of entertainment and recreational facilities, there is a modern Drive-In Cinema, certainly the best in Trinidad, and two good house cinemas. All these have excellent sound equipment and exhibit some of the best films from the celluloid world of Hollywood.
In the dim past, the Church of England’s Church was the only place which offered opportunity for congregational services. Today there are several churches located all over the village, teaching religion to a vast cosmopolitan community. The latest addition to these places of worship is an Indian Temple now under construction.
An urgent message to a friend living in San Fernando or Port-of-Spain in the early days had to be relayed through the Steamer and Railway telephone communication systems. Today the telephone service, which is Government operated, is housed in an imposing building with its equipment air-conditioned. The dial system has replaced the old manually operated system, and the service, has become popular. Today the telephone is a commonplace instrument, no longer seen only in Company’s offices and installations, but in private homes as well.
A long distance conversation is no longer a novelty. You can, if you wish, speak to anyone at anytime, in any part of the Island. The overseas service is also available, making conversation overseas as easy as it is over land.
The Post Office is now housed in a Government building, and the facilities of the postal system have greatly improved. Mails are received from San Fernando twice daily and are delivered from door to door by a team of postmen. One no longer has to journey to the Post Office to seek one’s mailto one’s mail. It is delivered. As an added facility to accommodate the public, a branch of the Post Office Savings Bank is also available.
Today transportation in and out of Point Fortin is comparatively easy. There are many private motor cars in Point Fortin, and the number of taxis plying for hire all make movement a matter of personal convenience. One no longer depends entirely upon any form of public conveyance, although of course, there is a regular ‘Bus Service. The number of privately owned motor vehicles in and around Point Fortin would appear to justify the existence and upkeep of two efficiently run Shell Filling Stations in the village, plus there on the outskirts.
Comparison becomes odious when one attempts to compare the case and facility with which one get in and out of Point Fortin today, with the days when traveling meant using the Gulf Coastal Steamer. The extension of the Southern Main Road to Point Fortin would still further improve Point Fortin’s connections with the rest of Trinidad.
Health and Sanitation
The health and sanitary conditions of Point Fortin have improved considerably. Malaria, which was a most prevalent and dreaded disease, has completely disappeared, thanks to the initiative of the Oil Company in filling and draining the swampy areas to eradicate the mosquito breeding grounds.
Time was when one medical practitioner visited the village twice a week. He took care of the medical requirements of the Oil Company. There was no nurse/midwife living within ten miles of Point Fortin. Today a modern equipped Hospital with up-to-date medical facilities, plus three resident doctors, and a team of qualified nurses are available.
There is also a Government Health Office at which the District Medical Officer is regularly in attendance, supported by a dispenser and trained nurse.
Also in private practices in the village are a medical practitioner, three dentist, and two opticians.
The Point Fortin branch of the Child Welfare League has gone, and is still doing an excellent job in Child Welfare. The League started functioning in the dark days when mothers and/or children died on their way to the San Fernando Hospital for the lack of trained and proper medical attention. Today in addition to their Infant Clinic and Ante Natal Clinic, the league boasts of a Maternity Hospital, the only one of its kind in the territory of Trinidad and Tobago. It is a boon to the area is used by nearly all the expectant mothers in the village and surrounding districts.
In the early days all bungalows and barracks were built with “Privies”, and the sanitary gang made a nightly round to remove the “night soil”. If one happened to be out late at night, one would be sure to meet the night soil cart. The village did not have this service; there were cesspits, which were a real nuisance and source of danger. Point Fortin has come a long way from these conditions. One is now inclined to forget them, since almost every house has a flush toilet with a septic tank connected.
Point Fortin now has a cemetery of its own, divided denominationally. There are funeral agencies with parlours. Quite unlike the days when the dead was taken to the Cap-de-Ville Cemetery for interment, a distance of about three miles out of Point Fortin.
At one time the majority of the facilities of the Village was provided, and, in many cases, maintained by the Oil Company. For example: roads, water supply, electricity, sanitation and recreational facilities. However, within the last five or six years, the management of the Oil Company has considered that the time had come for Government or some local authority to take over these responsibilities. Electricity is now being taken care of by the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission, which is in a position to supply all the electrical energy, needed in Point Fortin. Pipe-borne water at present leaves much to be desired. The Oil Company is still supplying some parts of the Village, while the bulk of the water comes from Granville, a source of supply operated by the Central Water Distribution Authority. The cleanliness of the Village is now the responsibility of the St. Patrick County Council.
Point Fortin has recently been made a Port of Entry. A Custom Officer is now stationed here permanently to enforce the requirements of the Law when ships enter and leave the Habour. The Jetty of Point Fortin, which is the longest in the West Indies, has berthing facilities for large ocean-going vessels, including oil tankers. Occasionally a cargo vessel carrying merchandise may call at Point Fortin to discharge cargo consigned to the Oil Company and merchants in the Village.
Also represented at Point Fortin is the Local Government Administration. At its office in Techier Road, rates and taxes may be paid. One can also obtain licenses for wireless receiving sets, dogs, bicycles, etc.
Keeping in tune with the progress of Company operations, an airstrip was recently constructed to facilitate a Company’s twin-engine aircraft. This airstrip is on of the first domestic air strips to be built in Trinidad. It is now in constant use, not only by the Company, but also by members of the Light Airplane Club.
The latest manifestations of progress in this modern age, is the magnificent office building erected by Shell Trinidad Limited to house its administrative and technical staff. The building, a four-storied structure of solid brick and concrete, stated majestically over looking the refinery and shops areas, and dwarfs every other building within a two-mile radius. Truly it is a glowing tribute to the stability of the oil industry, and a tangible expression of confidence by the management of Shell Trinidad Limited in the economic potentialities of Point Fortin.
Commerce interests in Point Fortin have long grown accustomed to the fluctuations of business, which are invariably influenced by the activities of the Company.
The expansion of the residential areas of the Village with its consequent increases in population has been responsible for a small increase in trade. The business community seems alert. Along the Market Place, can be seen many brick and concrete buildings, housing a grocery; and a hardware store; a dry goods and provision store; a restaurant; a liquor shop, or a combination of both. Even away from the commercial centre can be seen a business establishment of some kind. What a striking contrast to the day when the itinerant peddler hawked his wares on the roadside.
The commercial potentialities of this growing township can best be gauged by the importance, which big commercial enterprises attach to it. Outstanding amongst these are the establishment of branch offices of the Royal Bank of Canada and Barclays Bank D.C.O.; the Colonial Life Insurance Company Ltd. Hi-Lo Food Stores run a grocery here, and Geo. F. Huggins & Company. Limited conducts business too. All these have already added luster and dignity to the commercial environment.
A company comprising a partnership of the largest oil interests in the Territory is now actively engaged in exploring the profitability of marine drilling in the Gulf of Paria and a Marine Base is being projected off Point Fortin. Oil is the mainstay of the Village, and it is only industry upon which the community depends. Without economic expansion by the Oil Company, there can be no real progress in Point Fortin.
It has been made clear in public utterances by the Prime Minister-designate, Dr. Eric Williams that on the attainment of Independence, Trinidad and Tobago’s oil will assume a new and difficult role in the world market, and Government is keenly alive to the difficulties, which confront the new nation with regard to the disposal of its oil. It is hoped that impending negotiations with the European Common Market Countries all afford the new nation ample scope for further development of its oil resources. A satisfactory and successful arrangement will undoubtedly bring new hope to the Territory in general.
In spite of the optimism felt in connection with the future of oil, it is well known that oil is in no position to absorb all the labour available in Point Fortin and neighbouring districts. Government having realized the importance of this situation has recently acquired a parcel of land in Point Fortin for development of an Industrial Estate. The site is now being prepared, and it is hoped that in the very near future other industries will induced to come to Point Fortin. New industries will give buoyancy to the existing economic situation.
The dawn of Independence will find Point Fortin awake to salute the new nation. Long live Trinidad and Tobago! Long live Point Fortin.