With the Annual Cross Country Race coming up in a few days, It is only fitting that we know the history of how the race started. The Cycling Association should consider naming the first place trophy after Captain Metzgen. We are rooting for a Belizean to win the Garland in the 2018 Monrad Metzgen Annual Cross Country Race!Belizean Patriot: Captain Monrad Siegfried Metzgen, OBE, JP, VD
Ask any cycling enthusiast who came in first in the first Annual Cross Country Race in 1928 and they will probably tell you Elston Kerr. If you asked them who came in second, you might just get a blank stare because no one remembers who came in second and so if you asked who came in third, now that is asking for trouble. In this case, third place is signigficant because it was Captain Monrad Siegfried Metzgen. He not only organized the race, but he completed the race in 30 and a half hours. He was also an accomplished public servant, but because of space, we will only focuss on the Cross Country Race aspect of his public service contribution. You may read more about his considerable public service accomplishment at the link below. And now, here is his story.
Born in Belize City in June 1893, he was a Belizean Creole of humble parentage. Monrad was the son of Carl Alexander Metzgen, the former Auditor General (1911) of Belize, British Honduras.
He received his education at St. Mary’s Primary School, and later at Wesley School and the Diocesan High School for Boys (now St. Michael's College) before entering the British Honduras Civil Service as a Temporary Clerk at Her Majesty's Prison on 4 March 1910.
In 1928, on a bicycle ride in the country on the Northern Highway, Metzgen conceived the idea of what became the first Cross Country Cycling Classic having been struck by the number of bicycles Belizeans used to attend weekly cricket games in rural areas. He developed the idea for a cycling "expedition" to San Ignacio in order to test the cyclists' ability to cope with a then-badly built Western Highway. The Governor pledged support and offered a cup as a prize to the winner of the race. He enlisted the support of such notables at Matron L.M. Roberts of the Public Hospital, Royal Bank of Canada, local manager Charles Beattie, Frans Dragten, Reverend Cleghorn, medical officer Lieutenant Colonel James Cran and that of a young surveyor, Henry Fairweather. Within a month he had the whole programme together and launched.
On April 2nd.,1928, a parade and inspection of the cyclists was organised by Metzgen and attended by the Governor, Superintendent of Police and others, who congratulated the cyclists and sent them on a parade through the town's streets. The official race kicked off on 5 April 1928 from in front of the courthouse at 5:00 AM. The trail was along the Western Highway to San Ignacio (55 miles from Belize City). The first rider into Cayo (90 miles in total), Elston Kerr, was cheered for making it into town in about 13 hours. The men stayed through the Easter holidays, feasting, eating, playing cricket and soaking up the accolades of the Cayo faithful. They also visited Benque Viejo del Carmen and San Jose Succotz, the westernmost settled areas in Cayo. On 9 April, the expeditionists set off at 5:00 AM to return to the City, their progress reliably reported through of all things, the telephone service. Kerr, of Burrell Boom, finished first in 21 hours 29 minutes, 81 minutes ahead of second place Norris Wade, also of Boom. Race organizer Metzgen finished in 30 and a half hours.
Subsequent to the race, Metzgen formed and chaired the British Honduras Cyclists Association in June 1928. As a result of his experience in the race, he was a key proponent of improved public roads ensuring that successive Governors of the Colony became interested in road building.
He died of poisoning, on 14 May 1956.
On 17 September 2009, Metzgen was posthumously awarded the Order of Distinction from the Government of Belize in recognition of his dedication to Community and Public Service.
In 1925, with H. E. C. Cain, he wrote "The Handbook of British Honduras". The book includes over fifty Creole proverbs, proverbs like, Cuss-cus neighbor bore hole & Dawg hab liberty fi watch gubnor.
In 1928 he wrote "Blazing Trails in British Honduras" about the first Cross-Country race. (The book was recently reprinted by the Belize Historical Society).
In the late 1920s he worked on the "Archives of British Honduras", edited by the Governor, Sir John Burdon and compiled the pamphlet "Shoulder to Shoulder or The Battle of St. George's Caye."
The Handbook of British Honduras, by Monrad Metzgen and H.E.C. Cain, the Brief Sketch of British Honduras, by John Burdon, former governor and the Book Shoulder to Shoulder by Monrad Metzgen, all talk about the exploits of the Baymen.
Maybe in honour of Mr. Metzgen, we should rename the Annual Cross Country Race the "Monrad Metzgen Holy Saturday Cross Country Race", after all it was his creation. In lieu of the name change probably the first place trophy could be name after him.