Originally known as Baron Bliss Day, National Heroes and Benefactors Day in Belize is celebrated on the 9th of March each year, although, it can be moved to the first Monday following the La Ruta Maya Canoe Race.
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Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss was born in England in 1869. He became an engineer and married Ethel Alice Baroness Bliss. The couple lived at Quarry Court, Marlow in the County of Buckingham.
In 1911, at the age of 42, Baron Bliss contracted polio and was confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. At this point in his life, the Baron had amassed a large fortune through his income as an engineer and inherited real estate. He invested in oil shares which helped grow his wealth significantly. He purchased a yacht which was commandeered for war purposes during World War I. After the war, he purchased ‘Sea King No. 2’ and sent it to the Bahamas with the intent to live on it even with his disability.
Baron Bliss purchased property in the Bahamas and remained there for five years, living on his yacht and devising a method to pump fresh water from land directly to the ‘Sea King.’ He purchased additional land on Hog Island and Man Island in the Bahamas. In 1925, he moved his boat to Trinidad due to dislike of the growing social and administrative life in the Bahamas.
In 1926, Baron Bliss, whose health had begun to fade, accepted an invitation from his friend, Willoughby Bullock, the Attorney General of Belize, to relocate to the island. His health prevented the Baron from stepping on Belize soil, but he was impressed with the beauty of the island and the hospitality of its people. He changed his will to leave the bulk of his fortune to the colony. Before he left England, he had provided a settlement covenant for his wife, who did not join him on his journey. In his will, he noted that his marriage had been “a very happy one.”
At the time of his death in 1926, not long after his arrival in Belize, Baron Bliss had a net worth was more than $1.8 million. The British Government challenged the Baron’s will in court and, in 1929, a judge ruled that his estate must pay British taxes, reducing the amount provided to Belize. His will required that only the interest on the trust be used and that no United States national could act as a trustee or as an employee of any trustee. The fund could not be used for churches, dance halls or schools, unless they were agricultural or vocational.
The Baron Bliss Fund has been used for many projects in Belize including the Baron Bliss Institute and Promenade, the Bliss School of Nursing, the Belize City Water Supply System and the In-transit Lounge at the Belize National Airport.
History of the Holiday
Baron Bliss died on March 9, 1926 and was buried on the Belize City Coastline. A lighthouse was built there in his memory. The date of his death was declared a national holiday and, until 2008, was known as Baron Bliss Day. In 2008, the decision was made to add other benefactors and national heroes for commemoration, including Nicholas Pollard Sr., Samuel Haynes and Sir Isaiah Morter.
Celebrations and Traditions
On National Heroes and Benefactors Day, the Annual Harbour Regatta is held as is the Annual Kite Festival. There is a wreath laying ceremony at the grave of Baron Bliss. The La Ruta Maya Belize Canoe Race, a four-day event, is held just before the holiday and is the longest race of its kind in Central America.