Cayman was recently treated to a unique celebration of the arts, featuring the songs, poems and music of West Bay. Held at the Harquail Theatre, October Odyssey served up an impressive slate of talented entertainers assisting in chronicling the life and district of one of West Bay’s more beloved inhabitants, the late Nurse Irksie Leila Yates.
The event was organized by the National Trust’s West Bay Committee, which works to preserve the heritage of West Bay for future generations.
The night of performances from Rico Rolando, Nasaria Suckoo-Chollette, Curtis Barnett, Anika Conolly, Rupert Ackermon, and Xhalecia Grayson, among others, brought the history and vibrancy of the district alive for all those in attendance.
The goal, to raise funds for the restoration of Ms. Yates’s house, also provided an opportunity to learn about the life and times of Cayman’s beloved midwife, and to underscore the significance of the efforts being undertaken to protect her historic home.
Located on West Church Street, just off the four-way junction in West Bay, Nurse Yates’s house was acquired by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands in 2006 thanks to a generous donation from Maples FS.
Its famous inhabitant was born in 1899, the youngest of six children, to Arthur and Jacintha Yates.
In order to pursue a career in nursing, she walked from West Bay to George Town to attend lectures. She began her training under Dr. George Overton in 1917, and in 1921, she progressed to midwifery. By the time she retired in 1971, Nurse Leila had delivered more than 1,000 babies, many of them in the mothers’ homes or at her own house.
Ms. Yates also worked as a reporter, including for the Caymanian Weekly newspaper, providing lively updates on the goings-on in West Bay.
She died in 1996, and has been posthumously recognized for her achievements in nursing. She appears on the Cayman Islands “Pioneers in our History” range of stamps, released in 2011, and was honored this year at the National Heroes Awards, which recognized those who have contributed to the development of health services and wellness in the Cayman Islands.
Her memory is also being honored through the National Trust’s efforts to preserve her home. Oral histories given by others describe how the original home was damaged in a 1917 hurricane. What was left was moved from the area where the junction of the North West Point Road and Town Hall Road in West Bay meet today, to its present location on West Church Street.
The building sits in an area of historical importance for West Bay, in close proximity to Mr. Dick’s Bakery, Mr. Stafford’s Ice Cream Shop, Capt. Lorraine Henning’s house and Caleb Powell’s house on Henning Lane, which was used by doctors, dentists and Mrs. Rose, the dispenser.
The wattle and daub house stands as an example of traditional architectural and construction methods used in Cayman. Such homes were usually set on posts of ironwood, with walls constructed of a “wattle” of interwoven branches filled in with plaster “daub.” It is said to be the first house in Cayman to have glass windows installed, an event which caused great excitement among neighborhood children, whom Ms. Yates recalled gathering outside in order to peer through the panes.
There are no houses of this kind left in the Sister Islands, and those remaining in Grand Cayman are gradually disappearing, either through demolition or disrepair. Restoration work on the home that respects traditional building techniques is estimated to cost between $150,000 and $200,000.
“It is vital for the Trust to have the needed repairs carried out on Nurse Leila’s historic home, as this is the only wattle and daub home the Trust has in its portfolio of historic properties,” said Christina Pineda, executive director of the National Trust. “Nurse Leila was too important a fixture in Cayman’s history for us to do anything less than our best to honor her memory and her life’s work.”
For more information on Nurse Leila’s house and other National Trust properties, visit nationaltrust.org.ky.
West Bay native Nurse Leila Yates was one of Cayman’s most well-known and beloved midwives. The creative arts community has come together to raise funds to renovate her historic home, one of the island’s last remaining wattle and daub structures.