UNVEILING OF MURAL AND SIGNS AT COREAS DISTRIBUTION LTD DIAMOND, ST.VINCENT
Delivered by Deirdre B Millington-Myers on behalf of the SVGNT
This afternoon we are assembled on hallowed ground; we have come to commemorate the history of aviation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A story that is just about ninety years old.
The 14th February 2017 was a special day for aviation in St.Vincent and the Grenadines as we witnessed the opening of the Argyle International Airport – approximately 5 km north of here. The doors for direct international flights from St Vincent to major cities such as Miami and New York in the USA, Toronto, Canada and London, England and Caracas, Venezuela were sprung open. Regional travel with all the current challenges and domestic connections to the Grenadines keep us in touch with our Caribbean neighbours.
I however want to retrace our steps by reflecting on the journey travelled to arrive at Argyle. This journey had no ETA, as a matter of fact we were not even certain of the destination. We lifted off, gained altitude, lost some, circled many times, held in place with uncertainty until we found a destination.
The story begins on the 8th April, 1927 with the landing of four amphibian aircraft, piloted by Americans, on the beach in Kingstown in the area which is currently occupied by Coreas Hazells Inc. Isn’t it ironic?
Five years later, on 29th July 1932, a Trinidadian pilot landed his aircraft at this very site – the Diamond Airfield – St.Vincent’s first airport. It was then that air mail delivery service was introduced to St.Vincent changing the lives of many as communication with relatives and friends took flight.
It was not until 1934, however that a true cosmic shift took place with the commissioning of the Diamond Airport for commercial passenger flights. Diamond Airport thrived during the period 1934 – 1945, in spite of WW11 1939
– 1945. In 1942, British West Indian Airway Company signed an agreement to provide air service to St.Vincent and made its inaugural flight on 11th May 1943. Unfortunately, the service ceased in 1945 as the landing surface was deemed unsafe for the new and heavier aircraft.
As early as 1944, it became obvious that Diamond was not sustainable for any aircraft landing. The search begun for an alternative site –:
- Langley Park – not suitable
- Yambou Ridges – too expensive
- Ratho Mill – too costly
- Greathead – take off into the hills
- Argyle – attractive approach but could not accommodate a 3000 ft runway (currently runway length is just about 9000 ft)
Diamond Airport was closed in January 1947.
One year before the closure of the Diamond Airport – February 1946 – British Guiana Airways commenced service between St.Vincent, Trinidad and British Guiana using the amphibian Grumman Goose aircraft which operated from Villa Beach in the vicinity of the Aquatic Club. Later the service was extended to include Barbados, St Lucia and Dominica on a fortnightly basis.
Arnos Vale Airport was partly commissioned on 1st December 1959 and fully commissioned in April 1960. LIAT provided passenger service to other Caribbean islands Monday – Saturday and BWIA provided weekly service on Sundays. On the occasion of SVG’s national independence, October 27th 1979, an upgraded and expanded terminal building was handed over to the Government. Night landing was introduced in August 1978; this placed St.Vincent in sync with other Caribbean islands and increased the number of daily landings here. In December 1988, the airport was renamed the E T Joshua Airport in honour of this country’s first Chief Minister. The E T Joshua airport was decommissioned on 13th February 2017.
We are here today as a result of discussions between SVGNT and Coreas Hazells Inc. regarding the proposed development of this site. These initial discussions took place in November 2016. We discussed possible scenarios for commemorating the Diamond Airport. Four years of inactivity on the site followed. In December 2020, SVGNT opened dialog with Coreas Distribution Ltd regarding erecting a monument in commemoration of the Diamond Airport. Coreas Distribution Ltd. made available this area of the compound and we settled on a mural to be placed on this 100 plus foot boundary wall.
SVGNT invited two artists to submit concept designs of the aviation story from Diamond to Argyle. The draft of the one which will soon be officially unveiled was selected and together with artist, Mr Maxanne Rocke, the SVGNT finalized the design. Mr Rocke and his team commenced work on 26th August 2022 and were completed on 17th September 2022.
We officially thank Messers Rocke, Lewis and Reynolds for a job well done. The mural was funded by Coreas Distribution Ltd. and we say thanks to CEO Jimmy Forde on behalf of all Vincentians and visitors alike who will visit this site for supporting this project. Associated signs, which will also be unveiled here today were produced and funded by the SVG National Trust.
The Trust anticipates that our relationship with Coreas Distribution Ltd will continue and that together, we shall ensure that the story of this site will always be told.
Welcome all to the site of the first airport in St.Vincent and the Grenadines. For those who have wondered why the ATA code for St.Vincent is SVD – It’s because of the airport commissioned for passenger service in 1934 – St.Vincent Diamond. We are confident that this site will receive frequent visitors and the work on display will be appreciated and more importantly, the 90-year journey from Diamond to Argyle will be permanently etched in our consciousness.