St. Catharines and Port-of-Spain mark 50-year friendship bond
October 12, 2018
Had the late Philip Atteck not have to wait for his wife finish a bridge game with the spouse of then Air Canada regional manager and Dr. Richard Hilker who was based in Trinidad & Tobago (T & T), the cities of Port-of-Spain and St. Catharines most likely wouldn’t have twinned.
In 1965 while sitting on the front porch biding time, Hilker arrived home and told Atteck that he was about to embark on a promotional tour to Canada since the airline was increasing service between Toronto and T & T.
Atteck, then the sales manager at the defunct 610 Radio and a ham radio operator, accepted an invitation to join Hilker on the trip to Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
Two days before they were scheduled to leave the twin-island republic, a threatened strike by Air Canada flight attendants forced Hilker to pull out.
Unfazed, Atteck – armed with cases of rum donated by Fernandes Distilleries, a travelogue film supplied by Esso Standard Oil and his magical skills -- came alone on his vacation time.
He was the president of the Trinidad Magic Circle- Ring 91 and the Caribbean representative of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
“Instead of being the token Trini coming for the ride, Phil was suddenly thrust into the spotlight to sell Trinidad & Tobago,” said Helen Attack who resided on the Caribbean island for 15 years until the couple and their two sons moved to St. Catharines in 1972.
They were married in 1958 after she was introduced to him by friends while on vacation.
On the first stop in Toronto, Atteck stayed with former 610 Radio manager Larry Heywood who had migrated to Canada. During a break in his hectic schedule, Heywood took Atteck to St. Catharines which has a radio station – CKTB – broadcasting on 610AM.
It was during a meeting with Bill Burgoyne, who was the publisher of the family-owned St. Catharines Standard, that Atteck broached the twinning idea. They also owned CKTB.
“You own a newspaper and radio station and we have 610 Radio and the Guardian newspaper in Trinidad,” the 85-year-old St. Catharines twinning committee vice-president & advisor remembers her husband telling Burgoyne. “Between us, we could do a lot of good things for our communities.”
Burgoyne agreed and arranged a dinner attended by about 60 prominent citizens, including the mayor, police and fire chief and city councillors.
“Phil knew how to make a good rum punch,” said the widow. “He did exactly that for his esteemed guests, showed them the film and talked glowingly about Trinidad & Tobago. At the end, they invited him to tour St. Catharines in a motorcade.”
The similarities between Trinidad’s capital and St. Catharines were obvious to Atteck – the owner of the first flower shop & art gallery at the Trinidad Hilton Hotel -- who died in September 2009 at the age of 84.
“The two cities had similar population sizes, a strong connection to agriculture, radio stations that broadcast on 610, British legal and parliamentary systems and the people were friendly,” Helen pointed out. “There was a lot in common and, to Phil, it just made sense for them to get together.”
Atteck returned to St. Catharines after attending Expo 67 in Montreal and, the following year, the Port-of-Spain and St. Catharines city councils passed a resolution to twin the cities.
On September 21, a celebration took place in St. Catharines to mark the 50th anniversary since the establishment of the special relationship.
Mayor Walter Sendzik said Atteck was a visionary.
“He thought that the idea of bringing two communities together would be an opportunity where it’s more than just learning about other communities,” he said. “It’s about the cultural exchange, the understanding of history and the sharing of stories because communities are made by people who create stories. So when two communities come together, they exchange stories. Philip learned that a long time ago…The partnership has allowed us to learn about culture, history and different identities and those things have made us stronger.”
To mark the twinning launch in 1968, a total of 164 Trinidadians travelled to St. Catharines for the historic event.
Alice Lucas-Christopher, the president of the Port-of-Spain twinning committee who turned 92 on September 20, was on the charter flight five decades ago.
“My sister (Yvonne Lucas) was pretty close to Philip and when she asked me if I wanted to go to Canada, I said, ‘yes, I am ready’,” she recounted. “Coming to Canada for the first time and being in St. Catharines was a beautiful experience. The people were warm and friendly, we loved visiting Niagara Falls and there was always something new to see.”
Lucas-Christopher, who has been to St. Catharines on several occasions, headed a nine-member visiting delegation that included Allison Alexander, Cheryl Dalrymple, Claudette Julien, Kenneth Hosein, Sumintra Whittier, Flora Henry, Arlene Baptiste and Joan Kissoon.
Established in 1964, Brock University has maintained a close interest in the twinning.
To mark the sister cities 25th anniversary in 1993, the university – which established the Philip Atteck International Services office when it opened its new international centre eight years ago -- awarded a four-year honours scholarship to a Trinidadian student. To celebrate the 40th anniversary in 2008, Stella-Marie Chong Sing received a scholarship. She graduated six years ago with honours in English Language & English Literature and is teaching in T & T.
At present, there are 15 Trinidadians at Brock studying in several disciplines.
Alyssa Davis, who graduated from Maple Leaf International School in Petit Valley, arrived on the St. Catharines university campus six years ago.
“I have had a very positive experience here,” said the Master’s in earth sciences candidate. “Everyone I have interacted with has always been willing to help.”
After graduation, Davis plans to return to T & T for a few months before coming back to Canada to gain field experience.
Annamarie Hudlin is enrolled in the business administration program at Brock’s Goodman School of Business.
“If I was going to study abroad, I needed financial aid,” said the 2013 St. Joseph’s Convent graduate. “I was very fortunate to get a full scholarship to come to Brock. I have worked in three different departments and done some co-op that has allowed me to gain work experience.”
Second-year biochemistry student Sabrina Hoford counts herself fortunate to be at Brock.
“It’s an institution with great research programs for the sciences,” she said.