The 1920s saw Siparia expand as a commercial centre, especially with the steep rise in the price of cocoa which still occupied considerable acreages around Siparia. By this time, most of the old Royalist planters were dead and the only large cocoa estate was owned by the Hon Timothy Roodal, a member of the Legislative Council. Avocat and Standard Village, however, were occupied by numerous small cocoa farmers who planted estates of 10–20 acres.
The 1930s saw Siparia emerge into the age of the cinema. Two movie houses, the Regent and Plaza Cinema (originally owned by the Plaza Family), came into being at this time. The latter stayed in business until 1986, albeit under several different owners.
Plaza Cinema was the venue of many vaudeville shows starring local talent. Foremost among the performers was strongman and bodybuilder Phidias Bissessarsingh who was also known as “Tarzan” because his feats of strength were always done wearing just a loincloth made of real jaguar skin.
Jazz maestros Clive and Carlton Zanda (Alexander) are also long-time residents of Siparia and grew up here during the town’s heyday. These accomplished musicians still make contributions to the local music scene.
The years of WWII saw a change in Siparia society, especially with the influx of American soldiers to bases in Cedros and Los Iros. These soldiers would sometimes visit Siparia and have a spree with liquor, calypso and women.
A regular taxi service to San Fernando was established in this era, with Ford “Woody” wagons being the choice of vehicle.
The building which used to house the County Medical Office is known locally as the old army building because it was an administrative post for the Allied Forces during the war. Towards the end of the war, the St Christopher’s Anglican School was built.
Siparia during the 1950s was a place of change. In 1955, the Presbyterians built the now renowned Iere High School as a sister college to the famous Naparima College of San Fernando. This institution has produced many accomplished graduates and prospered exceedingly during the stewardship of its first principal, the venerable Rev Cyril Beharry.
The current prime minister (now former PM), the Hon Kamla Persad-Bissessar, is an alumnus of this institution.
With the formation of the People’s National Movement in 1956, Siparia became a major stop for the great political “excursions” of Dr Eric Williams. Towards the end of the 1950s a cycling velodrome was built at Irwin Park. The park was the scene of popular horse and donkey races in the 1920s and 30s which attracted spectators and punters from around the island. This is now the site of a modern stadium due to be completed in 2015.
The year 1954 saw the last of the Trinidad Government Railway in Siparia, which ran its last engine in that year due to the massive financial losses that were being sustained. The line was uprooted, and today only small sections of the original course exist. During the 1970s two secondary schools, Siparia Junior Secondary and Siparia Senior Secondary schools were constructed. These continue to provide meaningful educational stimulus for the youth of the district.
Though parang was originally brought to Trinidad in the mid-19th century by “cocoa panyol” immigrants who had come as labour on the cocoa estates, it did not really gain widespread credence until the advent of Daisy Voisin during the 1960s.
Daisy, the undisputed “parang queen,” (a former schoolteacher and nurse) lent a zest and life to the parang tradition with the assistance of her group of paranderos, La Divina Pastora. Though Daisy died in 1991, her music is still a cornerstone of a Trini Christmas. A bronze statue to her memory was erected in 2014.
Towards the end of the 20th and into the 21st century, Siparia continues on its brave front. Still a small country town, its heritage in parang and other endeavours is still very evident. Recently the Envirofest committee, comprising several notables of the region, has been instrumental in promoting local culture. The old landing place of the Amerindians, Quinam Beach, is now a bustling weekend hot spot.
The church of La Divina Pastora is also still very much alive, and the annual Siparia Fete is an event that is much looked forward to by many people throughout T&T. The multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan population is the real wealth of Siparia, where men are still brothers, and peace is still a very real concept.
Source: Virtual Museum of TT
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