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I Remember When…

hilly-ewing-pdLongtime TCI Politician Hilly Ewing looks back on the old days.

Interview By Andre Garneau and Embry Rucker

Historical Photos Courtesy TCI National Museum Collection

Hilly Arthur Ewing was born on December 11, 1930 in Blue Hills, Providenciales. He grew up to become one of the Turks & Caicos’ original political leaders. In fact, the government building currently housing the National Insurance Board and Premier’s Office in Providenciales is named in his honour.

In this article, Hilly looks back on the old days in Blue Hills (when Providenciales was snubbed as “west of the buoy” by people from Grand Turk), his political career and development in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

The old days in Blue Hills

When I was young, the people lived off a little farming and men did their own fishing — that was their income. Many built boats and used boats to go to Haiti, the Bahamas and Dominican Republic. The money was not big because the cost of living was very low but on those headings you could really make it. In those days when a man got 10 pounds he was one of the richest men in the country. We used to go and get conch and dry them and carry them to Haiti and get food and other things from Haiti in return, you called that “most exchange.” There was no use in bringing Haitian money back because you couldn’t spend it here. So all the money you made off the conch you had to spend it there.

To dry a conch you tied two strings to it and hung it across a piece of wood, one on each side so the wind could get to it. That was a bad smell, particularly if it rained then you had to dry the conch over.

There was only a small scale of employment: the lobster industry employed the few people who were left. You could make good money off crawfish. There was one plant in Providenciales and one in South Caicos.

Establishment of a legislature

During the 1950s the Legislative Council was more of an advisory board which was represented in each island. Gustavus Lightbourne and Paul Higgs were two of the people who were involved in it too. We had to go to Grand Turk once every three months for the board meetings with the governor. Before the board was changed to Legislative Council the members had to sail there by boat. They would go as far as South Caicos with their own sloops and then the government boat would come there and pick them up.

At first there were no polling stations but when the board was changed then polling stations were introduced and people had to go and vote.

The board ended after the death of Fuller Walkin in 1966. They had a bi-election. I ran for that election but I didn’t have any contestant so I won by acclimation in 1966 and that was the first election of members of the Legislative Council. At the time I was the representative for the entire community of Providenciales. Only long afterwards they started to make constituencies. There was the Bight and Five Cays, and Blue Hills was the major constituency. I was never sworn in until April 1967 so that’s how far apart the legislature was, it wasn’t at all active. The meetings were called by the administrator, who was appointed by the governor of the Bahamas when he saw fit. The Turks & Caicos Islands didn’t get their own governor until 1973.

I can remember when we used to fly a one engine plane to Grand Turk to council meetings. On our way down we had to stop for Mr. Robinson and land on the salina in Kew on North Caicos on the back of the village. That used to be the frightful part of flying — wondering how we would get back up in the air.

In 1972 we had another election and I won that one with a landslide. That was when we made more changes and from that time on we not only had the Legislative Council but an Executive as well. At that time there were not two houses because the members who sat on the Legislative Council were the same members to sit on the Executive. We would make laws into the legislature. When it came to approving the laws, we would go to the Executive Council, so it was only a change of hat because it was the same people!

This ran until 1976 when the UK brought in the new system of ministerial government. The parties came into being in 1976 too. Before that time, the party system didn’t exist. I lost the 1976 election which was the first ministerial election. Walter Cox won the seat for Blue Hills. The party system came into force when the election was over and Jags McCartney won. He had to run around to see if he could find some people to form a government, because it was a party constitution. He embraced the opportunity and said this would be the first ministerial government ever ascended to power. In fact this existed until 1984; after the chief minister ran into problems in Miami, the British scrapped our constitution and ruled directly. In 1988 when my party (PDM) won, we managed to get the constitution back.

Building inspector

In 1977 I was employed by government as the first building inspector in the Caicos Islands. I held this position until 1988. This was under the Public Works Department. In fact everything was not set up the way it is now because today the building inspector would be under the Minister for Natural Resources. Club Med came in the 1980s while I was working for the government. Some of the contractors didn’t like me because I used to make them take things down that were not right. They used to take some shortcuts and I wasn’t one of those people who took shortcuts so I would say, “You have to do it right.”

I held this post until 1988, after that I decided to go back into politics. At that time a guy came here by the name of Mr. Wason, he coaxed me not to go into politics again because he wanted me to become the senior building inspector. I said “no” because the voice of the people in my ear said that because of the work I had done before in politics, I would be the best one to help. So I went back to politics. I took up a ministerial post in 1995. I went through every office except the chief minister. In fact I was the deputy chief minister. I retired in 2003.

Economics in the Caicos Islands

In the 1950s and 1960s when the establisher of Provident Ltd., Fritz Ludington, came to Providenciales, Gustavus Lightbourne was still on the Board. Provident Ltd. was committed to the government to build some roads, mostly in exchange for land. So they got to work from all over the island and everywhere Provident had property they built subdivision roads and private runways. We built the first airport road by hand where one engine planes could land. I was one of the contractors together with Ray Ward.

Politically I was also involved in the debates over the roads and the land. Nobody in the Caicos Islands or Providenciales would ever knock down such development, because it was registered in their minds that it was time for something to happen here. We were tired of being called “West of the Buoy.” Even a fly would have voted in favour of that development. So we had no regrets and up to now we have no regrets because the doors were opened for development.

Provident Ltd. came in and did the development and here is the result from it. Fritz Ludington didn’t live to see all of the beauty of it, but the good and the bad would go together, as there were some things that happen good and some bad.

We had about 800 people living in Providenciales, in fact we had more than that but most of them rushed off to the Bahamas because there wasn’t anything taking place here. Only the pure in heart stuck around and stayed. I was in that crowd of people who didn’t leave. There are many children who were born in the Bahamas by TCI parents. A lot of them came back to live here. The law says once a child is born by TCI parents or even just one parent or when they have grandparents from the TCI, they have a right to come here.

tcnm199906411Health care and medicine

The first trained nurse was my sister who went to Jamaica where she married. Her husband was a doctor. She then came back to Providenciales and her first major case was Pastor Tom Rigby who got stabbed in his back. It took three or four days to sail him to South Caicos because it was the closest place to get to a doctor. She had to go on the boat with him and keep him alive until he got to South Caicos. This was the medical pursuit in my family. It came down to my son Dr. Rufus Ewing.

School and education

There was a school in Blue Hills where the old clinic used to be. Kids used to walk from Kingston in the Bight to that school and every afternoon they had to walk back home. If you were a second late, the teacher would beat you for those late seconds. We had to walk every day: never absent and never late. We first had a school in the Bight in the early 1970s. The Ianthe Pratt School was the first school there.

The first high school we had here in Blue Hills was the Clement Howell High which came in under my administration in the 1980s. There also was a private school in Five Cays which was operated by McKevey. It went as far as second grade; afterwards the children had to go to Blue Hills where Raymond Gardiner (from North Caicos) was.

In fact, Mr. Gardiner was the first teacher I knew. He taught me from infancy until I was ready to leave school. When I look back at my time at the high school in Grand Turk the education was closely matched. Not many children went to Grand Turk. It was very costly and the children couldn’t get the care they needed, therefore they couldn’t learn. They had this segregated thing about Caicos and Grand Turk which was a bunch of foolishness. When it comes to education all of my children went to high school in Grand Turk because there was no high school in Providenciales. Only my last daughter attended high school in Providenciales; afterwards she went on to graduate from the law school in London.

Hurricane Donna

The first hurricane I had much knowledge of was Donna in 1960. I was a small boy when the hurricane in 1945 hit. Donna was a devastating hurricane. We didn’t lose as many lives in 1960 as we did in 1945 but we lost a lot of houses — people were building clapboard houses then. We managed to get a good relief and materials and to start and build better houses. In fact, I don’t hear the people praise the British Government too much on the relief, they were praising President Kennedy. He sent down a ship in the Wheeland Cut. It was there for about three weeks off-loading goods, food and materials. We had to transport things from Blue Hills to North Caicos because the nearest point the ship could get into was the Cut.

Who are your children?

Rufus is my youngest son. He is a doctor. My youngest daughter is Rasheda. She is a lawyer. My second daughter, Marjorie, is a school teacher in Five Cays. Althea and Claudine were agents for American Airlines. Claudine now runs her own office. My eldest son Arthur lives in the USA but before he went there he was a police officer here in Providenciales. I have Glennie, he went to the West Indies Training College. He is now working at the clinic. I don’t remember how many grandchildren I have. I also have great-grandchildren.

Closing words

Politics is not the easiest thing to be in. It gives and takes a lot. I appreciate my political career for travelling almost the whole world. On the other hand you have people who believe you could do hell and all and you just can’t do it. You are trying your best but they still think there is more that could be done. These are times when you regret, “Why I have to put up with this?” Then you look back at it and say, “If there is anything to be done for the country, don’t give up now.”

Wrapping up the whole thing, I enjoyed my 15 years in government (I spent 8 years as a minister) so there were many times when people would come and ask me things. I would give politicians my best advice and they appreciated it. I thank God I have done my best and did my part to keep things going.



2 Comments

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Kerrian Shamoo
Mar 16, 2010 9:45

Well written and edited article.

Tajuana Rasheida Ewing
Apr 28, 2015 15:38

My wonderful father.

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