Fellow Kittitian, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters comrades, children:
I invite you to join me in a toast to St. Kitts and Nevis. I toast to the forthcoming World Cup which our tiny nation has the honour to host.
I toast to the spectacular transformation of the Park. I toast to the stunning success in getting it ready first among the fellow Caribbean hosts.
I toast to the people of Basseterre, the business people who proudly painted their buildings to bless the eyesight of our visitors.
I raise a special toast to Charles Wilkin on whose initiative St. Kitts was considered to host the World Cup. How proud he must be to see it reach such happy conclusion. Finally a toast to the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis for allowing Charles Wilkin the scope to fulfill the dreams of cricket lovers in St. Kitts to have world class cricket played in this island.
Ladies and centlemen, fellow Kittitians, I propose the renaming of Warner Park. I propose to name it the Charles Wilkin Recreation Grounds.
I visited the Park last week and was overwhelmed at its transformation. I was lost in amazement. I could not believe that this is the same place where I spent my boyhood running from end to end playing football and cricket, sitting on the benches under the trees that lined the road; playing in the large evergreen tree and cooping Mr. Guishard who had a way of sneaking up and landing one from his broad belt for playing in his precious tree.
I could hear him over the years, bellowing to the wandering boys. “Keep off the Main!”
Mr. Guishard loved Warner Park and treated it like his own.
It was Warner Park then, named by George King in honour of Thomas Warner, the first British ruler of St. Kitts who set up his colony here in 1623.
When George King was Post Master General, the last white man to hold that post, he issued a special stamp to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Thomas Warner’s arrival in St. Kitts.
This was a big event in George King’s life as a White man. He identified with the Englishman who led the way to St. Christopher and, again as a White man, he realized that the moment of Empire was passing and looked with nostalgia at the fading glory of the age of White supremacy in St. Kitts.
It was his final salute, the last reluctant bow of his race to try to preserve the name of his memorable leader who came to St. Kitts in 1623 and established the foundation of the British Empire in the Caribbean.
With the money raised from the sale of the issue, the Government made the first payment to the Wade Plantations for the cane field which would be used for recreational purposes.
The cricket grounds at Springfield were too stoney and too small to meet the requirements of the white men who played cricket and wanted to move the game to larger dimensions.
King lived then on Losack Road in the house now owned by Alexis Knight. No doubt the location of Warner Park had something to do with this fact.
It was obvious that Lawyer Sticks, as George King was nicknamed, enjoyed having the Park outside his door. In his retirement he took special pride in looking at the flamboyant trees that ran in a line past his house.
He seemed not to like seeing black children playing in the Park based an incident took place when I attended the Basseterre Boy’s many years ago, he seemed.
One of our female teachers had a class in the park under one of the trees, when Lawyer Sticks appeared and attempted to drive them out of the Park. The altercation had become serious enough for Mr. Beach to leave his desk and hurry to the scene to find out what was wrong.
Upon reflection as I grew older, I realized where Lawyer Sticks was coming from. Black people were not really welcome in the Park, they were only tolerated when better could not be done like when the Black boys bowled at the upper classes for pennies. We had to know our place and keep ourselves within the limit of our place. We could not climb the trees as children do. We could not play in the big evergreen without blows from Mr. Guishard.
But the Neager people children took over the Park. It became our resort during school holidays and at weekends. Barefooted children from College Street, Market Street, Nevis Street, Baker’s Corner, Blue Bell Alley and Rose Mary Lane made the Park their second home. They learnt to play for themselves, their teams and their island. Some of them even played for the region.
In the 1940s and ‘50s the ordinary people of St. Kitts tightened their grip on the Park when Robert Bradshaw the leader of the Labour Movement, held his mass meetings there. In that memorable episode of 1948 when the workers of the Sugar Industry went on strike for 13 weeks, Bradshaw’s followers gathered at the Park night after night to listen to the speeches of the Labour Leaders.
Caribbean leaders of the masses, Albert Marryshaw, Grantley Adams, Norman Manley, Alexander Bustamante made the Park their platform as they encouraged the masses to shed the cloak of colonialism and reach out to self-determination.
When Robert Bradshaw mobilized his masses in a protest march against Administrator Greening, thousands of Kittitians gathered at Warner Park with the torches held high. George King looked out of his window, no doubt terrified by the swathe of real fire which lit up an acre of the Park.
His terror soon turned into a calm amazement as he heard the order from the leader; “Comrades put out your torches”.
As he reflected on the charisma of this young leader in 1948, George King DSO realized that the crumbling colonial system was giving way to its replacement.
The present Park has taken on a new aspect. No longer is it the exclusive arena of the upper class nor the happy hunting ground of barefooted boys. It is not a political platform anymore. It is a modern stadium, state of the art. It deserves a new name, that of the man behind the scenes, the man who made the transition possible.
I propose a toast to Charles Wilkin.