Grand Bay was first settled by Amerindian people from South America over two thousand years ago in the area along the sea shore known as 'Spring' where clear fresh water was available. An archaeological study carried out in 2008 shows that the settlement was quite large. The large group of Amerindians called it Bericoua. 'Coua' is the Kalinago name for the large white land crab which was plentiful in the area, so it was 'the place of the large crabs', very important in the diet of the people of the time.
In the early 1700's French timber traders from Martinique made deals with the Kalinagos for cutting the forest and taking timber to be used in the French Islands. It was named by them ‘La Brande Baye,’ being the largest bay in the south of the island stretching from Pointe Tanama to Pointe Carib. One of these lumber men was a free black man named Jeannot Rolle and he acquired a large portion of land near the shore from the Kalinago and began a plantation. So it was that the colonization of Dominica began at Grand Bay and Dominica is unique in the Caribbean that colonization was started by a man of African descent.
It was Rolle who erected a carved stone cross to replace his wooden crosses which the Kalinago repeatedly destroyed. They did this because they associated the cross with the suffering and genocide that Spanish Christians had waged upon them Many years later, when the estate claimed the church lands by the bay, the cross was dragged up to its present location. It was known as "La Belle Croix".
Rolle invited the Jesuit religious order of priests to establish a mission on his land and the place became known as “Les Jesuites”. But after some years the Jesuits got into questionable plantation business and when the order was banished from all French colonies, their land was taken over by English creditors.
When the British took over Dominica in 1763 and divided up the whole island into lots for sale, a French Huguenot with English connections, Antony Bertrand, bought the estate and called it Geneva after his former home in Switzerland. Other estates were developed with names given by their owners such as Hagley, Picaudeau, Montin, Tete Morne, Palmiste, Grand Coulibri, Dubique, Pichelin, Pedi Temps, Nelson and Stowe. The Kalinagos who had remained up till this time withdrew to the hilly land to the east and intermarried with French settlers such as the Fontaines, Darrouxs, Anselms, Laurents and others around Bagatelle and Petite Savanne.
At Grand Bay, plantation work started in earnest and large numbers of enslaved people were imported from West Africa to work the estates. During the unstable period when the British took over Dominica from the French many of the Africans enslaved on Les Jesuits took the chance to escape into the mountains and they became the first group of Maroons to establish camps in the forest. Other slaves followed them in the years ahead.
The main village surrounds L'Allay, a narrow strip of land along the straight paved road from the bay to the mountain estates. After emancipation when the ex-slaves there no longer permitted to live on the estates in the Geneva and Grand Coulibri (Bordeaux) neighbourhoods, they retreated here and set up their huts along the road. Throughout the slavery period and beyond, Grand Bay was the site of resistance. It witnessed slave revolts – the major one in 1791, the Census Riots (La Guerre Negre) in 1844 and more turmoil in the 1970's.
There had always been tension between the estate and the village. Slave revolts surrounded the ownership of Anthony Bertrand. Post emancipation issues plagued the next owners, the Lockhart family, who bought the estate from Bertrand in 1824. And when that family sold out to Elias Nassief in 1949, issues of land use and squatting continued. In 1974 this erupted into violent confrontation and the burning of buildings. As a result of this the government acquired the estate from Nassief, and since that time there has been rapid village extension with housing, farm settlement, schools and community buildings, allowing the village to expand and overcrowding to be relieved.
Before motorable roads were built, Grand Bay was cut off from the rest of Dominica by a semi-circle of mountains inland. This influenced a particular form of social and cultural lifestyle to develop within that geographical area. The area was very self-sufficient and people were tightly linked in a network of family and community connections. African cultural patterns remained strong in forms of agriculture, ethno-botany (the traditional knowledge of plants), food, music, dance, song and language. Some of this can be found in the works of the author Jean Rhys who grew up at Geneva and whose book, 'Wide Sargasso Sea', is mostly set at Grand Bay.
As a result of this heritage, during the 20th century, Grand Bay or 'Sout City' became strongly identified with the renaissance of folk culture in Dominica. Chubby and Midnight Groovers, Tradibelle and several other groups emerged with many individuals having contributed to this movement. In a wide range of areas 'Grandbarians' have contributed to the national development: former President of Dominica, His Excellency Dr. N.J.O. Liverpool; Emanuel Christopher Loblack, founder of trade unionism in Dominica; Pierre Charles, former Prime Minister; and current Minister for Culture, Youth and Sports, Mrs. Justina Charles, are among them. Today, Grand Bay celebrates this heritage and the people who have contributed to it over the centuries.