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Alfred Galy: Syrian-born but a real Trini

Published: 
Monday, September 18, 2017
HISTORY CRUMBLES The controversial demolition of the Greyfriars Church of Scotland in 2014. PICTURE KRISTIAN DE SILVA

Desperadoes” was in desperate need of a place in the city to practise for Panorama 2015, to allow its fans to hear the band in nightly concerts. Then the band found this Syrian/Trini hard-nosed businessman, Alfred Galy, who keeps a hawk’s eye over his commercial assets and investments, willing to make prime property in the heart of the city, on Frederick St, available to the band for “a song,” a melody perhaps.

As an additional benefit to the band, Galy’s Trini-spiritedness allowed the Despers management to establish a car park on the grounds where the Greyfriars church and hall once stood to earn revenue after Carnival when gigs for steelbands are not frequent.

“We had no immediate use for the property; steelband is a very important instrument for T&T; and Desperadoes is an iconic band in our country. I came from Nelson and Duncan streets, and I have an affinity to the people from those areas; and so it was not difficult for me to make a decision like that,” Galy gives as his reasons for handing over the site to Despers.

However, taking control of his property and allowing Despers to practise were not easily accomplished. Galy attempted to demolish the church and hall to construct a commercial enterprise. There followed a loud outcry by those who would preserve architectural history. The preservationists and the minister of historical sites challenged Galy’s right to tear-down the buildings, the claim being that they were protected architectural sites and artifacts.

Eventually, Galy had the buildings bulldozed saying they were not listed as heritage sites and had been in a dilapidated state for years; the preservers got up one morning, the buildings were gone and that was the end of that “tantana.”

It must be difficult for Trinidadians of the present generation to associate the now affluent members of the Syrian-Lebanese business community, the fabled “one per cent,” with residing on Duncan, Nelson, George, Queen and Duke streets,the criminal hotspots of the present era with their run down “Plannings” and poverty.

But during the early 20th century right up to the 1950s/60s, the Syrian-Lebanese families, having sailed 3,000 miles from their homeland with little more than their hope for a new life, free of religious persecutions and deprivations, found abode in what was then old Port-of-Spain alongside African, Indian, Chinese and the bewilderingly mixed population of the city.

Alfred attended Nelson Street Boys’ and St Mary’s College. He lived close to the Alfred Richards (one of the founders of the Working Men’s Association that took the fight to the colonial administration) Drug Store on lower Nelson Street, and spent his boyhood in Tamarind Square, pitching marbles, spinning top and running jockey in the canal, heartbeat activities of boys of the era.

“There were no racial divisions and banter among the residents of the area. It was a multi-ethnic group of us; no one called me a Syrian, and I did not call anyone African or Indian.” Alfred lived with his parents and siblings in two rooms. “We changed residence 12 times, every time achieving a little more comfort.” The Galys also had stints in Newtown and St James.

His father scoured town and country hawking tradable goods; he told Alfred of the experiences he had sleeping under the roofs of people in the then far-off country districts when nightfall descended.

Understandably, the Syrian/Lebanese immigrants, says Galy, clung to each other as is the case in all immigrant communities. Among the Syrian families located in the Charlotte St area at the time were the Sabgas, the Laquis and the Abouds, says Galy.

He was one of the first members of his community who “chucked-in his British passport” for one marked T&T .

Having often “bounced-up” Galy on Saturday mornings in the Beetham Central Market, I provocatively suggested to him that he might be wandering far from home. His response verged on mocking laughter.

“When I was a little boy I used to go to the Central Market on George and Charlotte streets everyday for my mother with a three-wheel bike,” said Galy as he sought to put me in my place: “I continue to know all the vendors, the butchers in the Beetham market and we continue our relationship.”

“In the old Charlotte Street market, the bell used to ring at 3 o’clock, closing time, and then is when you could get beef, pork and fish for eight cents a pound because there was no refrigeration,” says Galy.

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