Monday, June 27, 2016

Birch Family History, by Rosi Birch

As many know, the history of Small Hope Bay Lodge is a long (and very interesting) one. Thankfully there are some who have kept records and accounts. Here is one of the first-hand accounts of Small Hope by none other than Rosi Birch (now Rosi Lovdal) . . .

Birch Family History

When Dick Birch first came to the Bahamas he came to Andros to find land to build a dive resort next to the Andros Barrier Reef.  He was sitting on the steps of the old Calabash Bay school when Mr. W. Edgecombe came along and directed him to go to the house of old Mr. George Minnis who had exactly the piece of land Dick Birch was looking for.  ”The Bay”.  Which became Small Hope Bay.  That was 1958.
Dick Birch came to Andros from Hamilton, Ontario in 1959 to begin the building of Small Hope Bay Lodge which subsequently opened for its first tourist in December of 1960.  His wife Joan had stayed behind in Canada with their three children , Janet, Margo and Jeff while she completed her degree in teaching, 

The family joined Dick and Joan began her teaching career at the Calabash Bay School in 1960. Joan continued her teaching career both on Andros and then in Nassau until her retirement.  There are many Bahamians who remember ”Ms. Boich” with love and gratitude through her many years as a beloved teacher.

In 1965 Rosi Kurth and her four children Heidi, Krista, Scot and Topher came to Andros and to Small Hope to join Dick.   Joan and Duke Hanna were now together, Duke a native Andros son who had become a musician and singer.  Duke’s music career thrived and he went on to become the first President of the Bahamas Musician and Entertainers Union, and eventually Senator Hanna. Joan and Duke are much loved for their years of service and influence on behalf of their fellow Bahamians, both culturally and politically.

Dick had been interested and involved in politics in Canada and not long after starting his life in the Bahamas he met Lyndon Pindling, and became familiar with the then fledgling PLP party.  It seems that his involvement with the PLP was frowned upon to the extent that a major lumber company refused to ship materials to Dick on Andros while he was building the lodge. He then set up his own small saw mill and began using Andros pine which he cut up north and then hauled down to Small Hope by sea.  The Andros pine was so heavy that it didn’t float while he was hauling it, he remembered that being extremely difficult.  The pine was so dense that he couldn’t hammer nails into it.  But it stands today, as a testament to the sturdiness of both Dick Birch and the Andros pine.

When Lyndon Pindling was declared Prime Minister in 1967 the Birch Family celebrated along with the Prime Minister and his wife Margeurite.  Not long after, Prime Minister Pindling brought his cabinet to Small Hope Bay Lodge for some classified cabinet meetings which were quite sensational in that the Prime Minister re shuffled his entire cabinet during these meetings at Small Hope Bay Lodge.  So the Birches and Small Hope Bay Lodge had again played an important part in the evolving political process of the Bahamas.

When Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was a guest at Small Hope Bay Lodge, Dick and Rosi arranged a private meeting between Prime Minister Trudeau and Prime Minister Pindling at the Lodge who enjoyed their private meetings on several occasions.

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau was an avid SCUBA diver and frequent guest at Small Hope.  Around 1970 Dick Birch taught Prime Minister Pindling how to SCUBA dive and accompanied him on a number of dives to explore the underwater wonders of the Andros Reef.  It was about this time that the government began to lay down environmental protective legislation making the Bahamas one of the first to do so.

Prime Minister Pindling was invited to Small Hope Bay Lodge again when the head of the Columbia University Lamont Geological Laboratory, Dr. Conrad Gebelein, was a guest.  Several members of cabinet joined the PM and Dick and Rosi Birch when Dr.Gebelein took them for a walk through the mangrove swash and explained in scientific detail that this was the nursery for the entire reef system.  Dr. Gebelein explained to the PM and his cabinet ministers that if this mangrove area was filled in and the site used for building, the entire reef would die, as it had off the coast of Florida.  Again Small Hope Bay was of primary influence in protecting the natural resources.

In 1970 when it was becoming apparent that the Bahamas would seek independance from Great Britain, there was much idealism in the air.  In the midst of the enthusiasm about independance Rosi Birch was aware of the  number of Bahamians who were seeking work, especially the women.  It was at that time that Rosi conceived the idea for ”Androsia”; a way to create jobs for the women of Andros, making something beautiful and reflecting the beauty of the Bahamas.  Starting in old bath tubs at Small Hope Bay in 1970, the business grew, the number of employees grew and eventually moved to the warehouse behind the old Lighthouse Club, with the help of Mr. W. Edgecombe.  It was in fact the same Mr. Edgecombe who had helped Dick Birch when he visited from Canada in the 1950s to find the property that is now Small Hopoe Bay Lodge. The first ”Androsia” fashion show was held in 1973 at the Nassau Beach Hotel.

During the start up years of ”Androsia” the wife of Prime Minister Pindling gave her personal support on many occasions.  Margeurite Pindling, an Andros Girl herself, sent lovely notes of encouragement in her own handwriting along with small gifts to the ”Androsia” staff  encouraging them to ’keep up the good work’.  Even when ”Androsia” was still learning and the quality of their garments could not have been called the best, ”Lady P”wore them proudly, sometimes cleverly hiding a flaw with an excellent placement of a brooch.  So loyal to her fellow Androsians she was!

It was also during this early period that the annual tradition began of Margeurite Pindling having an ”Androsia” fashion show for her annual PLP Ladies Luncheon.  It was then that Rosi Birch began the annual tradition of releasing a big basket of Andros land crabs out onto the floor in the midst of the dancers at the end of each fashion show.  The sign of the crab! being the sign of the PLP.


During the start up years of ”Androsia” Small Hope Bay Lodge was the cradle for ”Androsia”.  Many guests at Small Hope brought their expertise to the fledgling business; wax chemists from the University of Toronto; dye chemist specialists from Washington, DC; batik artists from Germany, a garment designer from Great Britain, all who just happened to be guests at Small Hope and who offered their time and knowledge enthusiastically, continuing the tradition of generosity of Small Hope and its guests from all over the world.

Dick and Rosi Birch traveled a number of times on behalf of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, appearing on what were then live televison interviews, promoting the Bahamas in both Canada and the US.  Rosi traveled with a group of Bahamian models and gave the traditonal dancing ”Androsia” fashion show in many cities across the United States to promote the Bahamas. 

When the Commonwealth Heads of State Conference was held in Nassau in 1985, ”Androsia” was asked by the government of the Bahamas to make the gifts for all the Heads of State.  A proud moment indeed for our small local company on Andros!  A special gift was made for Queen Elisabeth II, a beautiful 5 yard piece of soft coral pink silk, which was presented to Queen Elisabeth personally by Rosi Birch on behalf of all Bahamians when the Queen came to Andros, her ship The Britannia anchored just outside the Andros Reef.

During this same period just before Independance, Dick and Rosi Birch added another son to their family of seven children, this time a native son, when Peter Douglas, originally from Long Island, joined the Small Hope Bay family. He continues to live on Andros, representing the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.  He is the creator of the Crab Fest, one of the most popular festivals in all of the Bahamas family of Islands.  His wife Gabrielle has been a teacher on Andros for many years, and today runs the ANCAT office in Fresh Creek.  Their three children are growing into their contribution to Andros and the Bahamas.

ANCAT, Andros Conservancy and Trust, has been strongly influenced by the Birch family, by Rosi’s children through EdoEd, especially Scot Kurth Rosi’s son, and Peter Douglas, Dick and Rosi’s Bahamian son.  The Birch Family’s early interests in conservation continue as an important part of their tradition.  Large parts of Andros are preserved as national parks, the most recent being the West Side of Andros.  The Bahamas now has the largest area of conserved natural parks of any nation in the Caribbean.

Dick and Joan’s children carry on the family tradition of contributing to the Bahamas; Margo follows in her Mother Joan’s tradition as a teacher at the College of the Bahamas and co host of a radio show on local issues of import:  Margo’s daughter Lauren is also a teacher and daughter Danielle works in Nassau.  Jeff follows in his father Dick’s tradition as owner and manager of Small Hope Bay Lodge which continues to attract visitors from all over the world. Jeff has also followed in Dick’s footsteps as President of the Out Island Promotion Board and has represented Andros and the Bahamas at tourism conferences all over the world.

Jeff’s children Casey and Brian both live and work on Andros, Casey with Androsia and Brian with his Dad at Small Hope Bay.  Rosi Birch’s children also remain involved with Andros, her oldest son Scot raising his two sons at Young Sound. All four of Rosi’s children Heidi, Krista, Scot and Topher are involved with ecological issues on Andros through their organization EcoEd.. Three of Rosi’s grand sons have also worked at Small Hope Bay as divers. 

All three grandmothers lived at Small Hope Bay Lodge in their later lives; Dick’s Mother Dorothy, Joan’s Mother Jean, and Rosi’s Mother Rosalie. So the Birch Family is in its 5th generation of life on Andros, now including the great great grandchildren of Dorothy, Jean and Rosalie.

Today in 2016 Small Hope Bay Lodge is in its 56th year, the oldest family owned resort in the entire Caribbean, and Androsia is in its 46th year, and commonly known as the National fabric of the Bahamas.

The beat goes on!  

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1 comment:

Pop Pop said...

1969: Stayed there during several field trips. Fiance flew in to meet me. I used the abundance of pine needles to write " LOVE " on the roof of the cabin I always stayed in. The Beaver and Otter aircraft that brought us into the Island flew right over the cabin. The " LOVE " remained there during the yr. and a half. I traveled there. After our wedding we honeymooned there. Toufer (sp) used to sneak around and look into the windows of the cabins. Lord knows what he learned. Thanks for the memories. The prime minister of Canada visited too. I didn't recognize him. Seems he wore a hair piece in public. Scuba diving didn't count as " public. Married on 8-29-70. Gene and Leas'sa Sprehn.