When the Deep Water Harbour was opened on Saturday, May 6, 1961 by Sir Grantley Adams, Prime Minister of the West Indies, Pelican Island was firmly cemented into the new water gateway to Barbados.
Located just 600 yards away from the mainland, Pelican Island was joined by filling in the sea between the two, adding just over 90 acres of land to Barbados. Until the 1940's, Pelican Island served as a quarantine station, processing Barbadian nationals as well as crew and passengers of the many ships crossing the Atlantic and within the Caribbean. The Pelican Island historic site is marked by a lone carved pelican perched atop a one-ton boulder just inside the main entrance of the Port.
This landmark in the infrastructural development of Barbados signalled a realization of an effort that had started in 1694 when work began to "form a harbour at the town of St Michael, capable of accommodating and protecting ships of 200 tonnes". This project was in the final phase of completion when the entire structure was destroyed by a violent hurricane. The cost of reconstruction was prohibitive and the government was forced to abandon the scheme altogether.
As Carlisle Bay was better sheltered than Speightstown, and provided easier access to landing, Bridgetown soon became the centre of shipping, commerce, and government. Carlisle Bay was thus established as a principal anchorage port from about 1641 until the official opening of the Deep Water Harbour in 1961. Between 1641 and 1891, as steamboat operated vessels began to displace sailboats, Bridgetown was the first port of call in the New World for vessels arriving from Europe. Thus Barbados became a centre of commerce, and the trans-shipment centre of the Lesser Antilles.
Not until 1815 was there any revival of official interest in the creation of proper port facilities for Barbados, and in 1867, serious consideration was once again given to the construction of a deep water harbour to handle the increase in shipping traffic. Several proposals were put forward for the improvement of the port of Bridgetown.
Discussion continued until 1915, when Mr. Brady submitted his Harbour Improvement Plans to the House of Assembly, supporting the designs and report by Mr John Coode, a specialist in harbour construction, which advocated a deep water harbour to be located in Carlisle Bay.
More reports and surveys followed during the next forty years, and by 1955, controversy raged as to whether or not the island should have a deep water harbour.
Impressed with the economic prospects of Barbados and the ability of the country to manage the project which was highlighted in the Incisive Report by Sir Archibald Cuke, the British government gave the green light to proceed, and the funds were realized partly from a grant by the British government and partly from public borrowing in London. Coode and Partners prepared the design drawings and contract documents, and the building contract was awarded to Richard Costain (West Indies) Limited in 1957. Construction commenced in June 1957 and the works were overseen by the new Premier Dr. Gordon Cummins and Minister of Communications and Works Ronald Mapp, since Sir Grantley had moved to Federal Headquarters in Trinidad in 1958 to take up the post of Prime Minister of the West Indies Federation.
In his address at the opening ceremony of the Deep Water Harbour on May 6, 1961, Sir Grantley observed that "we are living in a world that is shrinking, and while others are playing about in searching out new planets, we are ensuring that export to and from this island is made far easier for all." This was the era of the USA — Russia 'race-to-space rivalry', and just one month before in April 1961, Russian astronaut Yuri Gugarin became the first man in space. The completion of the Deep Water Harbour had incurred a cost of $30 million, and signalled an end to the lightering system of transporting cargo from the larger ships in Carlisle Bay to the Wharf, and the accompanying displacement of hundreds of workers. Some 600 workers were re-employed when the new port opened, and the government set aside $1,750,000 to relieve the plight of those workers displaced. In its first year of operation, the port handled approximately 175,000 tonnes of cargo.