I was born in 1953 in British Guiana, a British Colony in South America about the size of England. It has the distinction of being the only English speaking country in South America. Due to it’s similar culture it is often considered part of the Caribbean.
Map of British Guiana
Georgetown, Stabroek Market (1960’s) (photo P Llyn-Jones)
Shortly after I was born in the capital city of Georgetown (Atlantic coast of South America, just north of the equator) my father joined “DEMBA” and my family moved to Mackenzie so that my father could strike out on his own and escape the influence of his father and the family business.
Georgetown 1956, Me, Mother and my two older sisters, probably going to see our Uncle the dentist for the annual checkup (Photo Evan Wong)
I grew up in Mackenzie, a bauxite mining town in the middle of the jungle 75 miles up the Demerara River from the capital Georgetown. There were no roads, the only way in and out was by boat. Commercial transportation was provided by the “R.H. Carr” a river steamer that dropped by usually two or three times a week, offering a ten hour ride to Georgetown. The slow rate of travel was mandated to ensure that the wake of the steamer did not sink the Corial (dugout canoe, from the Dutch Korjaal) used by most people on the Demerara river. In addition to, no roads there was no TV, no radio and virtually no newspapers providing quite the pocket of isolation.
Mackenzie Sand hills (1956), My Mother and I (Photo Evan Wong)
Bauxite is the ore that Aluminum is made from and at one time Mackenzie was one of the worlds largest suppliers of Bauxite. During World War II, Mackenzie was the primary supplier of Bauxite to the allies. This supply was of vital importance to the war effort. The Americans leased land from the British in 1941 and built and operated Atkinson Air Field (Guyana’s first airport) near Georgetown to provide air reconnaissance and protection for this Bauxite supply.
Atkinson Air Field (Photo H.Hamilton)
Bauxite processing facilities at Mackenzie were also expanded during the war with the new facilities being constructed underground to be immune from German and Japanese bombing (Yeah I know it’s hard to believe, either the war planners were idiots or far sighted, take your pick). The American’s also built a runway in Mackenzie that could be used to provide air defense of the bauxite, but since no real threat emerged it was never brought into an operational airfield.
Dakota over Mackenzie Airstrip (photo P Llyn-Jones)
Uncle John hoists me in the air, only my youngest brother is missing from the photo (Photo Evan Wong)
At the time of my childhood Mackenzie was a thriving mining town owned and operated by the Demerara Bauxite Company (DEMBA) a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of Canada (ALCAN) from Montreal, Canada. Operating the bauxite mine and processing facilities required roughly one hundred engineers. Getting these engineers and their families to want to live and work in this isolated community takes some doing. DEMBA/ALCAN constructed a separate community called Watooka within Mackenzie with certain facilities above and beyond what could be expected in Canada at the time. Despite its’ isolation this little pocket of Canadiana had certain advantages.
Three DEMBA engineers, French, Canadian and Guyanese, my Dad (right) (Photo Evan Wong)