Celebration to commemorate 5-year anniversary of Dockyard as UNESCO World Heritage site

Nelson’s Dockyard (File photo by Gemma Handy)
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July 16th will mark five years since the Antigua Dockyard was bestowed the honour of joining a list of other international historical places as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In order to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place or structure must have cultural, historical and/or natural significance, and in 2016, Antigua and Barbuda joined eight other Caribbean islands that have historic sites designated as such by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.
National Parks Authority’s (NPA)Heritage Resources Officer, Desley Gardner, spoke to this newsroom about how such an award continues to raise the profile of the world’s only working Georgian dockyard.
“This inscription really highlights the fact that the Dockyard is a continuous cultural landscape. Three hundred years of maritime history from since the British were in the Dockyard to today, we have been continuing to careen ships, so it is definitely a grand continuance of activities, and we have both British sailors and African descendants still working in the Dockyard contributing to the yachting industry,” Gardner explained.
Celebrations to mark the historic occasion got off to a grand start on Sunday as visitors got the opportunity to view artwork from students at the Antigua State College (ASC) paying tribute to the lives and work of the enslaved Africans who built the Dockyard.
The art exhibition unveiled on Sunday immortalizes the enslaved people who built the Dockyard and complements the park’s 8th of March research project which seeks to gather their names.
The Art Exhibit, aptly named ‘Exhibit 8’ was supported by the Naval Dockyard Society.
Gardner also gave an update on the research project where she revealed that thus far an impressive 700 names had been collected.
“Last year, we thought we only had 400, but as we continue going through the records it has expanded to 700. We started out with just eight names and our hope is to eventually build a database, but another component of the 8th of March project is also the educational outreach. This focuses on educating the community and also students in school because we need Antiguan history to be represented in the schools as well. We haven’t had active research into our history, it’s mainly been what did the British do here.”
According to Gardner, these findings will help locals feel a bit more attached to the Dockyard, knowing that they have a personal connection to the area.
“I think it is finally giving us representation in a history that many of us didn’t really connect with before, because most persons think of the Dockyard as the British Navy’s stomping ground, and we didn’t really have a place in it, but now to understand that these are the persons that actually built these buildings that are still standing today, which are such a key part of our heritage. These were the people who were helping to keep the British Empire afloat. Keeping their dominance in the Caribbean, especially in the Leeward Islands. It’s much more than just knowing their names and knowing their professions it’s their contribution to our history and we should be proud of that,” she added.
Yesterday, the NPA conducted an educational campaign with the release of a series of video productions that showcase the National Park and some of the important aspects of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Meanwhile today, July 13, has been assigned as Media Day, where key members of the NPA team will spread across the local media to share their thoughts on what achieving world heritage has meant for Antigua and Barbuda and how the public can play its role in the work of preserving our heritage and history for the future.
Tomorrow is Heritage Education Day targeting children from schools in the community while on Friday the NPA will team up with the Cultural Development Department for an evening of storytelling, heritage and culture in the Dockyard.
It will feature master storyteller, Joy Lawrence, and acts of song and dance from the Culture Division.
The activities will be celebrated under the theme ‘From Dockyard to Shirley Heights – Celebrating Our Lives, Our People” which encapsulates the major factors that supported the campaign for the enviable UNESCO designation.

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