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Friendship Day on VG brings back nostalgic memories to Hon. R.T. O'Neal

Attendees at the official opening ceremony of the 40th annual VI/USVI Friendship Day in Virgin Gorda. Photo: VINO
Participants view exhibits at the Friendship village held during the 40th annual VI/USVI Friendship Day in Virgin Gorda. Photo: VINO
Participants view exhibits at the Friendship village held during the 40th annual VI/USVI Friendship Day in Virgin Gorda. Photo: VINO
The Hon John P. de Jongh Jr, Governor of USVI gets a gift from Hon Ralph T. O'Neal at Friendship day 2011. Photo: 40th commemorative Booklet.
The Hon John P. de Jongh Jr, Governor of USVI gets a gift from Hon Ralph T. O'Neal at Friendship day 2011. Photo: 40th commemorative Booklet.
VALLEY, Virgin Gorda, VI - The hosting of the 40th annual VI/USVI Friendship Day this time around at Virgin Gorda has awaken memories of the island's history for Leader of the Virgin Islands Party (VIP) and Ninth District Representative Honourable Ralph T. O'Neal, OBE.

One thing residents of Virgin Gorda can always be sure of is the fact that when it comes to representation over 38 years now, even if it’s merely by a show of presence, Hon O'Neal is always on the spot. This year’s activities to mark the 40th Annual VI/USVI Friendship Day on June 29, 2013 were no different.

While he was not programmed to speak at any of the activities, Hon. R. T. O'Neal did make good the opportunity presented to him by virtue of contributing to the Commemorative Booklet. In his tribute, he reflected on a number of events that would have occurred on the island and can be deemed 'nostalgic'. He mentioned that one of the most significant appropriate to the celebration was the setting up of the Inter Virgin Islands Conference (IVIC).

According to the booklet under the heading 'Historical Context', the conference established on May 9, 1951 was created to discuss matters of mutual concern and implement programmes and services that could have benefitted both sets of islands. According to Hon. O'Neal in his tribute, the conference was one of the activities that had drawn the islands closer.

Though the nature and intensity of the interactions varied over time, they covered a wide range of areas, such as sports, education, tourism, entertainment, immigration, family ties, economics and trade, health and politics.

A delegate of congress is said to be of vital importance to the VI/USVI Friendship Day as persons being familiar with the history of the groups of islands interactions would be more sensitive to sterile US policies.

O'Neal's reflection

"Commissioner Cruickshank was Commissioner of the British Virgin Islands and I could remember Honourable Howard R. Penn, Mr Alexander LaFontiane and Mr Robinson O'Neal were members on the British Virgin Islands side of the Conference. This Conference continued until it was expanded and eventually Friendship Day was born, a child of the Conference," he recollected.

Hon. O'Neal credited the Conference for continuing to deal with matters affecting both Territories. "We always remember the kind way the British Virgin Islands was treated when the Office of the Price Administration (OPA) was opened in St. Thomas and how the Captains of the boats leaving St. Thomas for Tortola, had to go to the office to make a declaration of the goods that were purchased. The captain took the bigger boys during the school holidays as part of their crew," noted Hon. O'Neal.

During his reflection, the Ninth District Representative said Spanish Town, which was in the Valley at Virgin Gorda, was the first capital of the VI but after some years had moved to Fat Hogs Bay before being shifted to Road Town where it remains until today. He said where the ceremony was held in Virgin Gorda on Saturday June 29, 2013, was one of the largest ponds in VG. "And during dry weather, when all the water was absorbed, the earth became hard as concrete," he recollected.

It was the very location where the first airplane, which was owned by the Don Q family in Puerto Rico, had landed. "I understand that some of the family is still in the Don Q business and they have records of this flight. Of course there was a lot of excitement in the island. The school children were allowed to come down from the St. Mary's school building up at Church Hill to look more closely at the airplane," another nostalgic memory recalled by Hon O'Neal.

The other that has a significant mark in the Territory’s bond of friendship was the exportation of sugar from Tortola. "Nor can we forget when sugar was exported from Tortola, the mystery behind the tonnage of sugar. Eventually it was found out that the sugar from St Thomas was cleared in Tortola for the European Market and probably this may be the cause of the smuggling that went on between both groups of islands."

In the past, the older folks from the USVI visited Virgin Gorda for activities of fishing, the harvest celebrations and holidays, especially August Monday.

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