by KRYSTAL MCKENZIE
The familiar expression, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants,” can almost be taken literally when we consider the major contributions of the Black tradesmen in Bermuda.
These men are barier breakers, opportunity providers, and, of course, iconic Bermudian builders; these are their stories.
Cranston Warren (Carpenter)
In 1951, at the tender age of 13, Cranston Warren completed his primary education at the Central School, now known as Victor Scott Primary School.
Like many adolescents at that time, Cranston was given a choice – continue his academic education, or become an apprentice in one of the building trades. He chose the latter, and has no regrets. He soon became a carpenter’s apprentice for the late Mr Horace Smith, a carpentry contractor.
By the time Mr Warren was 18, he was promoted to the position of head carpenter. Mainly because, in addition to general carpentry, he was able to lay out simple roof structures.
Over the years he worked for several carpentry contractors, including Mr Charles Lathan, Mr James Brown, Mr Austin Wilson and his partner Mr Dillas, as well as building firms like Burland, Conyers & Marirea, Colony Construction, Notman Construction Company, and Somers Construction Company. He worked both in the field, and as a carpenter shop foreman.
Throughout Bermuda, Mr Warren was involved in the construction of numerous houses, and well-known buildings such as the Mercantile Building, American International Building, the former Rosebank Theatre, the former Gas & Utility Building, Fairmont Southampton Beach House, The Supermart, and Arnold’s Supermarket, to name a few.
Black tradesmen in those days tended to use the personal skills they had acquired to help each other build their own homes. Most weekends, for several years, you would find Mr Warren volunteering his carpentry skills for this purpose. The ability to perform most of the carpentry while building his own house was very gratifying for him. To this day he continues this practice; recently designing and building double garage doors for his home – at the age of 81!
In 1973, Mr Warren started a career with the Bermuda Public Works Department as a Depot Foreman. He was the first black person to hold the position of Depot Foreman at both the Western, and Prospect depots.
Following further education in Bermuda and the UK, he was promoted to Depot Superintendent at St George’s, and retired as the Assistant Buildings Manager in December, 2002.
In his capacity as a supervisor of tradesmen, he implemented apprenticeship programs within the Public Works Department, and initiated a work/study program for foremen with the Bermuda College. His sphere of responsibility included the supervision of the carpentry shop at the Government Quarry.
Today, many tradesmen will tell you that it’s because of Mr Cranston Warren’s leadership that they are excelling in their trades. Mr Warren is thankful to his Heavenly Father for guiding his life.
Sydney Jones (Electrician) deceased (interiew of son, Burton Jones)
Not every son can look up to their father with pride. Not so for Burton Jones, who still respects the example provided to him by his father, Sydney. Burton endears, “I enjoyed those days and the example of these men, and the quality of their work. The infrastructure of Bermuda – these guys built that! They started out as helping hands, foreman, maybe head honcho, and have left a legacy to aspire to.”
Sydney Jones left Berekely at 15. He wanted to marry his girlfriend, so he worked with his oldest brother for about 10 years, and then got married when he was able to get a house.
“My father’s work spoke for itself,” says Burton.
“He did such great work, the wealthy on Front Street hired him to do their work – buildings such as Cooper’s, and all their shops in the hotels, Heritage House, Hand Arnold Limited, the Vera P. Card building, Frith’s Liquors and more. He also worked on Government House, and the Kindley Air Force Base, amongst others.”
“All the men I knew in those days did quality work, all of them,” Burton says. “I remember admiring the work of Mr Eugene Raynor, and told him I wanted to be a carpenter like him. He said, ‘You don’t want to be a carpenter, you want to be more than that.’ I just didn’t understand why he didn’t want me to be a carpenter like him.
“I get it a little bit better now. The doors were opening. His son, Ashley Raynor, became one of the better black architects in Bermuda! We used to eat and breathe this kind of stuff – blueprints, houses, measurements, etc.”
A great story Burton recalls from his father was bidding on the Kindley Air Force Base job. “He thought, ‘I’m a small outfit, I can’t do this, I’m too small!’ So, he tripled the cost of the job to make himself too expensive, but they chose him! Well, with special equipment, and special people hired, he got it done!”
As a result of his father’s work, and mother’s support, the children were able to go to school abroad. While it was strenuous for his parents, Burton admires and appreciates what they went through to give the next generation a better life.
Mr Jones is of the opinion, “Segregation was ‘good’ for us in the sense that we HAD to work together. We had to work amongst ourselves and we made ourselves stronger. Carpenter – mason – plumber. That’s how construction firms arose!”
“These guys learned multiple trades,” explains Burton. “My house was built by my second cousin who could do all the trades except electrical.”
How was Sydney Jones able to accomplish so much? Burton credits the partnership between his parents. “My mother was always helping my dad in his work…who to keep on the job, how to approach a bid, etc. My mother recognized work habits and made sure everyone did honest work.”
When Burton reflects on the legacy of his father and others in comparison to today, he quotes from Henri Estienne, “If youth knew; if age could.” I enjoyed those days and the example of these men, and the quality of their work.
The infrastructure of Bermuda – these guys built that! They started out as helping hands, foreman, maybe head honcho, and have left a legacy to aspire to.