San Fernando is the second most populous city in Trinidad and Tobago, after Chaguanas. It occupies 18 km² and is located in the southwestern part of the island of Trinidad. It is bounded to the north by the Guaracara River, the south by the Oropouche River, the east by the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway, and the west by the Gulf of Paria. The former borough was elevated to the status of a city corporation on November 18, 1988. The motto of San Fernando is: Sanitas Fortis (“In a Healthy Environment We Will Find Strength”). Many local Trinidadians refer to the city with the shortened name “Sando.” San Fernando is called Trinidad and Tobago’s “industrial capital” because of its proximity to the Pointe-a-Pierre oil refinery and many other petrochemical, LNG, iron and steel and aluminum smelters in places such as Point Lisas in Couva, Point Fortin, and La Brea.
San Fernando is a coastal city. It is bounded by the Guaracara River to the north, the Solomon Hochoy Highway to the east, the Southern Main Road to the southeast, and the Oropouche River to the south. The city proper is located on the flanks of two hills — San Fernando Hill (formerly known as Naparima Hill) and Alexander Hill. Several mansions on the pinnacle of Alexander Hill house belong to some of the more prominent San Fernandian families. The Cipero, Vistabella, Marabella and the Godineau Rivers all enter the sea within the city limits.
The Amerindians called the area Anaparima, which has been translated as either “single hill” or “without water”. A single hill, San Fernando Hill, rises from the center of the city. A town named San Fernando de Naparima was established by Spanish Governor Don José Maria Chacón in 1784, in honor of the heir to Spanish crown. With time, the “de Naparima” was dropped.
Following the 1783 Cedula of Population, many sugarcane plantations were established in the Naparima Plains surrounding San Fernando. The town grew as this part of the country came to dominate sugar production. This growth continued throughout the nineteenth century as consolidation in the sugar industry led to the construction of what was then the largest sugar refinery in the world, the Usine, Ste. Madeline factory a few miles east of the town. The development of cacao cultivation and the petroleum industry helped San Fernando grow since the town served as the gateway to these areas.
The growth of the town placed severe strains on the supply of water, especially during the dry season. Complaints by the burgesses of the town resulted in numerous reports by geologists and hydrologists throughout the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the problem was not solved until the Navet Dam was constructed in the 1930s.
The nearby oil refinery at Pointe-à-Pierre played an important role in San Fernando’s development between World War II and the 1980s. The refinery was constructed by Trinidad Leaseholds Limited during World War II, and constituted one of the largest contributions to the war effort by a private company. The “oil boom” of the 1970s and ’80s led to the growth of the suburbs of San Fernando, especially Marabella (to the north) and Gasparillo (to the east) of the Pointe-à-Pierre refinery. In 1991, the boundaries of the city were extended, bringing the refinery (the largest in the Caribbean) immediately adjacent to the City’s northern boundary.
The extended city now includes the suburbs of Marabella, Bel Air, Gulf View and Cocoyea.
San Fernando has lost much of its history; most of its old buildings have been demolished, and perhaps the only section of the city that reminds one of its past is in the vicinity of the San Fernando Wharf and Harris Promenade.
Local government administration started in 1845, when the Town Council was established and the Municipality of San Fernando came into being. Circa 1853, San Fernando was elevated to a Borough; the first Mayor was Robert Johnstone. During its first year as a city, San Fernando was twinned with the town of La Trinité, Martinique. Ties with the French were re-established. From the simple start of a fishing village, San Fernando blossomed financially, and became “the Industrial Capital” of Trinidad and Tobago.
The administration of San Fernando is done by San Fernando City Corporation, one of the Regional corporations and municipalities of Trinidad and Tobago. It is a corporate body, and the staff is instrumental in the exercise of the powers of the Corporation through the Council. Functions of this Corporation are delegated by the Central Government, and the Corporation itself is within the jurisdiction of the Minister of Local Government.
The city crest incorporates the city motto, the sea, the hill, a fishing boat, sugar cane stalk, oil tank, house and two discs. The sea and boat represent the beginnings as a fishing village. The sugar cane stalk represents the sugar industry. The oil tank represents productivity and the oil industry. The house represents shelter for all races. The sun-like disks represent Steelpan and Tassa, as well as togetherness.
San Fernando is divided into nine electoral districts, each represented by a Councillor. Three appointed Aldermen sit on the Council, which is chaired by the Mayor, currently Junia Regrello. Its economy is heavily dependent on the oil fields of southern Trinidad and the refinery at Pointe-à-Pierre. San Fernando serves as a shopping center for much of southern Trinidad. Gulf City Mall located in La Romain as well as High Street are the two largest shopping areas in all of Southern Trinidad.
San Fernando serves as an important educational centre serving the surrounding areas of south Trinidad and attracting students from as far away as Point Fortin, Rio Claro and Couva. Prominent schools in San Fernando include Presentation College, Naparima Girls’ High School, Naparima College, St. Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando Central Secondary School, ASJA Boys’ College, ASJA Girls’ College, San Fernando TML Primary School, Grant Memorial Presbyterian School and St. Benedict’s College. San Fernando Technical Institute (UTT). Ste. Madeleine Government Primary School was first established in 1943 to serve the communities of Petit Morne, Corinth and Palmyra. It initially had upward of five hundred and a staff of twenty-five teachers. There were initial challenges and obstacles and the quality of the social and physical environment negatively influenced the efforts of the staff and administrators of the school. The wooden structure began to deteriorate and in January 2002, the school population was relocated to the Petite Morne community community center.
With the development of NHA, in St. Clements, Cocoyea, Ste. Madeleine and Taradale and also Pleasentville development coming on stream, in 2017 the school now has a new building commissioned by the Minister of Education in 2002. This new building was completed on October 25, 2004. Individual classrooms are used by teachers with a functioning Science room, Art and Craft Room, I.T.lab, Library, and conference room and a large Auditorium and cafeteria. A playground at the back of the school and 24 hour surveillance by M.T.S. officers.
In terms of scenery, the major attraction is San Fernando Hill. The park at the top of the hill gives a view of much of western Trinidad. Venezuela, on the South American mainland, is visible on clear days.
Harris Promenade, named after Lord Harris (Governor of Trinidad from 1845 10 1854), houses City Hall, the Magistrates Court, Supreme Court, Police Station, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist churches and three schools, St. Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando San Fernando Boys’ R.C and St. Gabriel’s Girls R.C. School. There is also a bandstand, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and the famous “last train” engine — the last train that was run in Trinidad. Usually referred to as simply “The Promenade”, this area plays an important role in the life of the city. It runs parallel to the main shopping district (High Street), but lacks the busy throngs of people. It also serves as an important judging point for the J’ouvert portion of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. The eastern end of The Promenade is known as “Library Corner” after the Carnegie Free Library (a gift from Andrew Carnegie) which was opened in 1919.
Between 1938 and 1941, a set of 14 pictorial definitive stamps was issued by Trinidad & Tobago featuring the portrait of King George VI and images of local history, buildings and scenery. Scott #57 is a 12-cent dark violet and black stamp released in 1938 (Stanley Gibbons lists this as black and purple, SG #252, with a shade printed in black and slate-purple released in 1944, SG #252a). The stamp was recess printed and perforated 11½ x 11. It features what was then called San Fernando’s Town Hall.
In 1834, a wooden structure that was called Town Hall was built at the corner of Harris Promenade and Penitence Street in San Fernando. In 1930, a foundation stone was laid by governor Sir Alfred Claud Hollis and the original building was replaced in 1931 by the one that stands today. The design of the building, which consists of three floors, is neo-classical in design, distinguished and symmetrical in form. Over the years, the original building has been extended to cater for the San Fernando City Council’s expanding functions.