Naturalistic and existential realms of place in Roseau, Dominica

by Niko Lipsanen (2001)


  1 Introduction


Chapters 2 to 6


  7 Position

  8 Structure

  9 Function

10 Texture


Chapters 11 to 13


Chapters 14 and 15

16 Discussion


    Appendixes : Places : Dominica : Realms of Roseau : Capital position


7.2 Capital position

Roseau is by far the largest urban centre in Dominica. Some two or three thousand people live in its Inner City district. In official statistics (Population Census 1991) Roseau reaches from Potter's Ville in the north to Newtown inhabiting 6,131 in 1991. The study area, in addition to that, includes Goodwill, Gutter Village, and Bath Estate. The Population of this area in 1991 was little more than 10,000. The district of Roseau city council includes even areas such distant as Fond Cole in the north, Castle Comfort in the south, and Morne Bruce and Elmshall Estate in the east. The census 1991 result for the population of the district was 16,038 (see Table 2).

The total population of Dominica in 1991 was 71,157 (Population Census 1991) which means that about 22% of the island's population lives in the capital district. In the other town of Dominica--Portsmouth, situated in the northern part of the island--live only 1,677 people. With the adjoining Lagoon and Gutter areas and nearby Glanvillia village, the population rises up to 3,625 making 5% of the national population. Canefield urban area about 4 km northwards from Roseau has 2186 inhabitants, and several villages all over the island have little more or little less than 2,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, no other centre in Dominica can compete with Roseau when the size is concerned.

Even if Roseau was the largest urban centre in Dominica it still has to compete with other and even larger centres of the neighbouring French islands. Because of the mountainous terrain and absence of connecting routes, until recently the only way connecting different communities of Dominica was the sea. It was not until 1956 that the Transinsular road connecting Leeward and Windward coasts of Dominica was finally finished, and the road between Roseau and Portsmouth was opened in 1972 (Honychurch 1995a: 188).

Being isolated until recently from each other, different communities of Dominica have also become culturally distinct. This is what Trouillot (1988) calls 'patchwork of enclaves'. Especially in the southern and northern parts of the island it was previously easier to travel across the channel to Martinique or Guadeloupe instead of going to Roseau. These direct contacts between the villages on the sides of the channels have remained even though nowadays one has to cross the border of the European Union (Honychurch 1995b: 67-68).

Throughout its colonial history Dominica was one of the poorest colonies of Britain or France--the fact that has always been visible in its capital. Thomas Atwood (1791: 172-173) says about Roseau of the late 18th century that '[--] small wooden buildings, occupied by negros, [--] give it [Roseau] a rather an unpleasing appearance from the sea.' One reason for this dilapidation, he thought, was the fire that had destroyed Roseau some years before his visit there. He continues:

The streets of this town are also very irregular, not one of them being in a straight line ; but the whole of them form very acute angles, which face nearly the entrance of each other, and appear very incommodious and unfightly. They are, however, mostly well paved, are in general from forty to fifty feet wide, and the town is very pleasantly situated.

There was an important centre on the site of Roseau already when Kalinagos ruled the island. Chief Ukale--regarded as the most important chief on the leeward coast--had his village called Sairi on the very same site which in the mid-18th century became the site of Roseau (Honychurch 1995a: 41). The first European settlement was moved to the area in 1699 when the British from Barbados built a fortified lumbering colony of about 35 men near Sairi. Illness and an attack by the French pirates caused colony's collapse in 1700 but the British, the French and occasionally the Spaniards continued to call the island for wood and water (Boromé 1972: 80-81).

According to Joseph A. Boromé (1972: 81), illness was reducing the number of Kalinagos in Dominica. In addition, some of them emigrated to the Orinoco area in mainland South America. While they numbered some 5,000 in 1647, it was estimated that only about 500 were left in 1713. They sold their lands to French settlers and moved to less accessible areas on the Windward coast (Boromé 1972: 83).

The first French Commander, M. Le Grand, was appointed to Dominica in 1728. Roseau was conveniently situated for trading with Martinique and therefore became the most prominent settlement of Dominica. As a result, in 1735 more than 600 people lived in the town. (Boromé 1972: 82, 85) Roseau--named after reeds growing in the river--was also made the seat of Government. The parish of Roseau was established in 1730, and the church of Notre Dame du Bon Port was built on the same site were the Cathedral of Roseau still lies. (Honychurch 1995a: 55, 66)

Dominica was ceded to Britain after the Seven Year War in 1763 but France regained it for five years from 1778 to 1783. In 1781, during the French occupation, Roseau was destroyed by fire (Atwood 1791: 185).

The British intended to move the Government from Roseau to Portsmouth that owing to its sheltered harbour at Prince Rupert Bay, extensive flat land and easily fortifiable Cabrits headland nearby was found to be a more attractive site for the capital than Roseau. Atwood (1791: 190) describes the Prince Rupert Bay area:

In this bay the whole of British navy may safely ride at anchor all seasons of the year, and be well supplied with necessaries not to be found at English harbours in Antigua, or any other part of the English West Indies, the rendezvous of the British fleet.

The plan, however, was never realised. Due to the extensive swamps around Portsmouth the area was found sickly, and almost all of those who tried to settle there moved to Roseau (Honychurch 1995a: 64). Nevertheless, Cabrits peninsula was fortified and it became the site of Fort Shirley.

Nowadays Dominica has three urban centres. Their hierarchy is reflected in the names of their administrative institutions. Roseau has a City Council while that of Portsmouth is called Town Council. Canefield has an Urban Council. All the other councils of the island are called Village Councils except the one of the Carib Territory which is called the Carib Council.

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