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Denis Bélanger, a landscaper who provides shelter for rescued animals at Pineapple Cottage. (Photo provided – Naj Wikoff)

One response I got to my unexpected Turks and Caicos vacation spot last week was this: Pineapple Cottage is an oasis. The hosts, two- and four-legged, furry and feathered, and the wonderful array of plantings, breezes and nearby beaches help make it memorable. If you’re lucky like us, a group of Junkanoo might appear in the neighborhood for some fun.

In a way, it’s like my partner Renee and I stumbled upon a mini version of Wilmington’s Wildlife Refuge because the Whiteface Lodge wasn’t available. Although we didn’t have the exquisite choice of breakfasts served by the talented chefs at the Lodge, we did have fresh eggs which we could cook anyway we liked them from our host Pineapple Cottage Denis’ range of chickens Belanger.

Pineapple Cottage, located in an emerging animal rescue sanctuary, offered a different experience from the famous Providenciales Grace Bay beach with its almost constant sunny weather, snorkeling and other amenities that attract thousands of visitors each year. . The allure of Pineapple Cottage, the core value that makes it unique, is rooted in the spirit of Junkanoo, an ongoing celebration of renewal and rebirth.

In a way, it’s like the freshly laid eggs we received in the morning at the Cottage; they didn’t come with the price of the room; receiving such a gracious gift is often the result of an exchange. There are benefits to developing positive relationships, whether with the person offering you accommodation or between musicians and their audience; results can be better than expected when our shared desires create positive experiences for all.

Junkanoo is a Bahamian celebration of the end of slavery created by slaves; mainly blacks imported into bondage from West Africa and indigenous peoples from the Caribbean islands. Some trace the word Junkanoo to former slave John Canoe. Kitchener Penn, the founder of the Junkanoo Museum in the Turks and Caicos Islands and leader of the We Funk Junkanoo Band, said it was both that and a description of how poor slaves, like Canoe, created their instruments and their colorful costumes by reusing and repurposing waste. , making new scrap.

Slavery officially ended on August 1, 1838 in the British Caribbean. Yet it did not completely disappear as Jim Crow-style indentured labor laws immediately followed, and lasted well into the 20th century. So Junkanoo, as a celebration of the end of slavery, really came into existence with the abolition of indentured labour.

“In the 1800s, there wasn’t much for costumes or musical instruments, so anything you could get your hands on that could help create a costume was used, bric-a-brac was new.” said Kitchener Penn. “Torn strips of newspaper, brown paper or colored tissue paper were glued together to create shirts or skirts. Coconut palms and leaves were stripped and braided together to create hats. Goat skin was soaked, stretched, cleaned, and tied to the end of buckets or cans to create drums; The conches were turned into horns. The philosophy was to recycle, reuse and reinvent.

As the necessities of life are, for the most part, expensive on the islands as everything has to be shipped, the spirit of recycling, reusing a person’s waste and giving it new life is a way of life on the islands. he is. Denis Bélanger used this same Junkanoo aesthetic to create his animal sanctuary. Walkways are made from shipping pallets, fences from tree prunings, and pool liners from found plastic sheeting. Whether it is the stone of the walls or the materials of the mangers, everything has been revitalized.

No life has been more transformed than the growing number of animals that live there; from abandoned wounded, they have become loved and valued members of an interdependent community. Even more exciting, they now become teachers for visiting children and their parents, with an even brighter future ahead of them.

Bélanger grew up in Montreal. Although he tried to follow his father into the world of finance, his heart was never in it; his love was gardening which he discovered while helping his mother, an avid gardener who also loved the arts. Belanger first came to Turks in Caicos in 1997 on vacation, then worked professionally as a landscape project manager for Canadian architectural firms. Something about the island caught his heart. Bélanger returned on vacation several times, and around 2003 was hired to implement landscaping for a large house being built on the island. Afterwards, he went home, came back and never left.

“Designing a landscape is one thing, implementing it is another, because you have to think long and short term, because some plants take time to settle and flourish”, said Belanger. “Tropical plants attracted me, for sure, the landscapes are breathtaking, you never get tired of the ocean, but it has its challenges. It is not a lush landscape. It has terrible soil, very little rain and very salty air. You have to be able to deal with all these things. »

As Belanger’s artistic talents and his ability to meet these challenges by creating welcoming environments are held in high regard across the islands, he used those same abilities to create a home for animals that were abandoned or damaged. He takes a short-term and a long-term view with them, resulting in a happy community of animal life in and around his home.

“Since I was very young, I have always brought animals home”, said Belanger. “With the pandemic, everyone had to stay home for six to eight weeks. I thought it would be nice to have some chickens so I could have fresh eggs. But before that, a lady brought me two squirrel monkeys and asked me to take care of them for a few weeks. I said yes, I would love to. I read how to take care of them. Two weeks turned into three, then 10, then she stopped responding to my letters.

Since then, a pair of peacocks on long-term loan, a chicken with a damaged leg, then other chickens from various locations and breeds, non-native turtles that people have brought in as pets, and after to be weary, were released into the wild. Also, a couple of roosters arrived, a duck who fell in love with him, to name a few; he number and variety are growing, and so is Bélanger’s long-term vision.

Belanger is also a weekly columnist for the local newspaper, giving advice on all aspects of landscaping, gardening and plant care. He learned that it is difficult to get people to be more sensitive to the environment, local trees and plants to “savor the value of a tree” when they are ready to destroy so much to build a house. The kids, however, are another matter, and they get it.

“I have the land, the space, so I want to not only expand the rescue center, but also make it a learning center for children,” said Belanger.

His vision is to increase the variety of animals to include reptiles and insects; to create a place where kids can learn about the native foliage that includes poisonous trees like coral sumac and manchineel, causing rashes. Yet they too have a vital role in the web of island life, much like termites. Belanger’s vision is like combining the Wild Center and the Wild Life Rescue Center into one on a small scale with a focus on educating children.

“In real life, there is nothing wrong” said Belanger. “There are no weeds in nature; all plants have a purpose, as do all animals and insects. They all have a reason. Our opportunity is to listen and learn about their benefits. Yes, I want to create a learning center for children, but more importantly, as a place where they can learn to help create a better future. Children will apply what they learn; they are open to learning the value of nature.

Staying at Pineapple Cottage just off the southeast beach in Long Bay, we landed in the middle of this wonderful birth of the new and were serenaded by a group of Junkanoo who came to greet a neighbor on my last night. It gave me hope for the future. I would love to see Pineapple Cottage partner with like-minded institutions in our area, as both places have such a diversity of life to protect and visit to inspire.

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