Warner is a village in the parish of St. Paul, situated at the edge of an extensive plateau that lies between the Belfast and Layou River valleys. This flat land was formed by the early eruptions of the Trois Pitons volcano, which stands to the east of the community. Before the time of Christopher Columbus, the area was an Amerindian settlement for the Kalinago people and several pre-Columbian artefacts such as stone tools have been found here. It was a fertile farming area for the indigenous people, who grew and processed cassava, corn, beans and other crops.
When the British took over Dominica in 1763, they surveyed the island and cut it into lots for sale. Many planters from the ‘old colonies’ of the Leeward Islands came here to buy land as pioneers on this newly acquired island. Charles Warner of Antigua was one of these. He was a descendant of Sir Thomas Warner, the leader of the first English group to colonize St. Kitts in 1624. He was related to the Kalinago chief, Thomas ‘Carib’ Warner, who was killed at Massacre in 1674. Charles Warner purchased several properties around Dominica in the parishes of St. Andrew, St. David, St. Joseph and St. Paul, where he had his main estate and this estate was named “Warner” after him. Warner’s plantation here produced sugar, rum, molasses and coffee. In the parish of St. David his name also survives in the Charles Warner River, which is a tributary of the Pagua River, flowing through part of the Kalinago Territory.
The main French road across the island from Layou to Hatten Garden went through Warner. It was called “La Grand Chimen”. It started by the sea at Hillsborough Estate in the area known as “Bord La Mer Gweg” and then climbed up behind Tarreau Cliffs. From there it continued along the Warner ridge to come out at Saulton and then straight across the flat to Penrice. This road became neglected after new roads were built such as the “Imperial Road” from Canefield to Pont Casse and also up the Layou Valley after 1902. As a result Warner became a backwater, “Deyey dos Bondyay” as people would say.
Charles Warner was an absentee landowner who did not live in Dominica but left managers to run his plantation. After full Slave Emancipation in 1838, the estate was abandoned and the ex-slaves and their descendants just continued to occupy the land. Various subdivisions took place in the late 19th century so that in certain parts of the old estate the landholding situation was confused.
For years it remained an isolated settlement with a rough road leading down a ravine from the village to Belfast valley. The coastal village of Mahaut was the commercial and social centre for Warner and there are close ties between families in those two communities. The area is still known for the production of sweet potatoes, yams and vegetables.
In the 1960s, a motorable road to the village was cut through from the Layou Valley near to Saulton so that although it was quite a long way around, vehicles at last could get to Warner. Gradually other developments came to the village. Piped water, electricity and telephones, a village school, health centre and various churches were established. The big change came in the late 1990s, when a steeply cut road was constructed from Jimmit across the flat plateau to connect the village directly with the coast. This created a connection from Jimmit through Warner to Pont Casse and to roads to the north and east of Dominica.
Once more there was a major throughfare across the island through Warner, just as the old “Grand Chemin” had been. It opened up some three hundred acres of land mainly for housing. New suburban homes continue to be built across the Warner flat and a new neighbourhood is developing as people get to know each other and join with the original villagers to create a strong community. Therefore, the transformation of Warner that has been stimulated by these recent developments is still in action as we celebrate this Heritage day 2012.
By Dr. Lennox Honychurch.