Christchurch’s Arts Centre reopening soon – hurrah

Over the past five years, returning to the city of my birth, Christchurch, New Zealand, was often like returning to school – but the old three R’s rule of reading, writing and ’rithmetic had been replaced with different R’s – I often had to ask if it has been reopened, renovated, relocated or reduced-to-rubble. Unfortunately, with something like 80% of the inner-city, my old stomping ground, demolished because of quake damage, many were reduced to rubble or relocated.

Of course many of my favourites have another R as they remained-open or have reopened after minor damage was repaired, while a few had to close temporarily while neighbouring buildings were ‘de-constructed’.

A few of my special city-centre places in the remained open (or just closed briefly) category are, The Classic Villa; Canterbury Museum; Botanic Gardens; and The Antigua Boat Sheds.

Two months before the September 2010 quakes, a mayoral candidate said if he became mayor he would apply for World Heritage Status for the city’s unique Gothic Revival buildings. It seemed no city in the world had such a collection of Gothic revival buildings ‘of such high quality and so well preserved’ and I went to the Great Hall in the Gothic style Christchurch Arts Centre, another of my favourite places in the city, to hear about the proposal. He said, “these Victorian buildings date back to the 1850s and as a group are of enormous international significance. They represent the outcome of the furthest migration of any group of people in human history.” He continued, “They are more than bricks and mortar, they are at the heart of our city”.

See more I’ve written about our Gothic buildings post-quake.

A bad selfie of me with Andre Lovat
A bad selfie of me with Andre Lovatt

I’m now back at the Arts Centre, very fortunate to get an escorted, behind-the-scenes, peek at the work being done in this part of the ‘heart of our city.’ Andre Lovatt the Arts Centre CEO, who values the heritage buildings in our city, is showing me around. He knows that ‘with enough time and money, you can do anything’ and time and, money has been and is continuing to be used on this collection of buildings. (Donations welcome to help this work – see their website)

Although the Gothic style is usually associated with churches the mid-Victorian architects used it in other buildings such as Canterbury College in 1873. Other buildings were added and eventually the college became Canterbury University. Over a century later the University moved to a new campus in the suburbs.

With plans to demolish the buildings locals demanded they be kept and eventually the empty buildings became the Arts Centre, which incidentally, my father had said would be a waste of money for the city and ‘should not be saved.’

A number of architects designed the individual buildings, the most well-known being Benjamin Mountford: it’s been said that the Great Hall was a good example of ‘his ability to adapt the Gothic style to colonial circumstance and to produce magnificent buildings within the constraints of limited resources.’

Much of the Arts Centre is reopening this year (2016) and there is anticipation and excitement by retailers who hope to return to the centre and by Cantabrians in general who look forward to being able to enjoy the area again. Check their website to find out the dates various buildings will be opened – and I’m hoping a New Zealand craft market will eventually open there too.

use hh IMG_5974webThe Fool by Sam Mahon  is one of my favourite pieces of public art … I wonder where it will move to within the Arts Centre grounds.

The Fool in its original spot outside the Court Theatre
The Fool in its original spot outside the Court Theatre

A new sculpture to be installed within the Arts Centre is the twin to this one by Antony Gormley  – which is in the Avon (between Worcester and Armagh Street bridges.

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I believe one of the first places to open this year will be Rutherford’s Den. This Kiwi, Ernest Rutherford, is one of the greatest scientists of the modern age, and he studied at this college from 1890 to 1894: this den is where he conducted some of his earliest experiments and is now a  museum and information area. The Den was extremely popular before the quake and now that it has been  totally updated I can see even more locals and tourists visiting it.

For more information about the wonderful Arts Centre, check their website

Here are some photos taken during my visit in February 2016 – as you can see there were workman everywhere.use arts centre 2016 (67)web

Including skilled stone masons

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Punting from historic boatsheds

Historic boatsheds
Historic boat sheds

In 1850 swamp covered the beginnings of Christchurch and settlers had to walk through bog to get home after the market. Those early British settlers must have been sorely disillusioned when they first saw the soggy land which was to be their home on the other side of the world.

Between 1000 and 1500, Maori (who had arrived here from the Pacific) had a settlement in this area, called Puari. It stretched east from the Otakaro River and was home to around 800 Waitaha people who gathered eels, whitebait, native trout, ducks, and flounder.

The Deans family renamed the river to Avvon – after a small Scottish river near their old home – later the spelling was changed to Avon by the new settlers who had followed the Scottish brothers. Now, the bog long drained, every weekend Cantabrians (we who live in Canterbury, New Zealand) and tourists go boating on the same river.

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The centre of this fun is of course the historic Antigua Boat Sheds. One of many boat sheds which were established along the river in the 1870s/80s. Many generations of locals have spent time messing around in boats hired from them and, I too learnt to row in the gentle waters of this spring fed river.

The Antigua boat-sheds were built by a couple of boat builders and it is one of Christchurch’s oldest buildings. Open all year, and with a cafe full of home-cooked food attached, it makes a great setting for all sorts of events – from weddings and cocktail parties to children’s parties- as well as a family fun day in the park.

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As well as canoes and paddle boats for hire and you can also have  Welcome Aboard punt you upstream, through the beauty of the botanic gardens, – perhaps even sipping champagne or tucking into a hamper of food which is optional. I once again enjoyed relaxing on a punt during my time in Christchurch earlier this year – it was as delightful as ever.

use welcome aboardwebThanks to Welcome Aboard for your hospitality on the punts, gondola,caterpillar, and trams.

 

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Riding a caterpillar in Christchurch!

use botanic chch

use botanic chch2As well as riding the rails recently, in Christchurch New Zealand, I also rode a caterpillar: no, not the turn-into-a-butterfly type caterpillar but an electric one in the city’s Botanic Gardens – this is Caterpillar Garden Tour is one of the attractions operated by Welcome Aboard

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Known to Māori for hundreds of years, Christchurch was officially settled by the British in 1850. Plans for the Botanic Gardens began 13 years later in the area that at that stage were largely made up of wetlands and sand dunes, and in 1863 an English oak was planted to commemorate the marriage of Queen Victoria’s eldest son Prince Albert – this is the same year that my maternal family arrived from Cornwall, followed in 1872 by my paternal Scottish ancestors. Like those early trees, our roots are deep in the plains and peninsula.

the Avon provides a great setting
the Avon provides a great setting

Nestled in a loop of the Avon River the gardens are a popular place for locals and visitors value that the area was ‘reserved for ever as a public park and to be open with the recreation and enjoyment of the public’ when Christchurch was in its infancy.

Scott and Shackleton worked from this spot
Scott and Shackleton worked from this spot

A magnetic observatory  has stood here in the gardens since the beginning of the 20th century. This is not the original building but is on the very spot where explorers such as Scott and Shackleton calibrated their instruments before heading to the South Pole.

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Funky inner city hotel in Christchurch

Good coffee/tea station in my room
Good coffee/tea station in my room

Funky, with attitude, BreakFree on Cashel (street) is one of the biggest and newest of Christchurch hotels, it has a modern urban feel and all rooms include a
smart TV and free fibre-optic Wi-Fi.

It certainly epitomises a city reimagined and is handy to many tourist attractions and great cafes restaurants and bars.

Bought ‘as is’ after the quakes (10/11) the company has done lots of work refurbishing, updating, and most importantly, seismic strengthening.

For me, it was a great base to explore the city and after a hearty breakfast, I set out on walking tours, tram rides, New Regent St, Re-Start Mall, the Quake City Museum, punting, and of course, the wonderful Botanic Gardens in the Christchurch Art Gallery.

The local city council has created a great app which you can find on your App Store or Google play (findchch.com) which will help you find your way around.

I'm shown around the hotel
I’m shown around the hotel

The test of any hotel for me is would I stay there again? Absolutely. Although I was their guest on the sixth floor this time I would willingly pay – and you it has a range of rooms for you to choose from. I suggest you check out their website and decide which is best for you. I was shown around the different configurations of rooms – from the smallest to the largest I’d be happy in any of them.

Thanks for hosting me Breakfree. Here are some photos I took of those rooms:

NOTE: This is one of a series of posts about Christchurch. See this recent post about the 2010/11 quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

Riding the rails . . . Christchurch tram tracks

Trams supporting our local rugby team ...The Crusaders
Trams support our rugby team – The Crusaders

 

I used to think my mother was so brave when, holding my hand, she stepped out into the middle of Colombo street to board the tram. I was excited and scared at the same time. A few years ago I took my mother on a tram trip – in the restaurant car: she was delighted with the silver service and delicious meal.

Baby of the fleet - 411 came from a Sydney, Australia, Tram Museum
Baby of the fleet – 411 came from a Sydney, Australia, Tram Museum

Seems my family history with trams goes back even further as I have a tattered photo of my maternal grandfather laying, or repairing, tram tracks in the mid-1930s: a photo that had appeared in the Christchurch Press. It’s only a few years ago that I always had an annual pass for the tram as, living in the inner-city I rode the tracks frequently – especially if it was raining or I was carrying my groceries and vegetables.

The KiwiTravelWriter becomes world-famous in the Tram Clippings newsletter

Trams removed were  from Christchurch’s streets in the mid-1950s, but returned in the mid-90s, mostly as a tourist attraction – back then, and during  my travels on this trip, even as a local I enjoyed hearing the history of places we passed. Unlike many places around the world,  taped commentary are played: here the drivers, or motormen as they are correctly called, speak freely about the city’s history and add their own personal touches. I hope this never changes as it makes these tours unique and personal. A travel writing friend of mine, Roy Sinclair, has been a tram driver here and provided historical context for the other drivers – he also tells me that the training is comprehensive.

It appears trams are simple vehicles, with a control to go, and a brake to stop, however, learning to drive them smoothly is not always easy, nevertheless it seems there are bonuses with the job. I recall one who used to recount his 15 minutes of fame when he co-starred with Kate Winslet in the 1990’s film Heavenly Creatures. As he said, ‘three days of work and I made it onto the film for about three and four seconds!

During an All Blacks game the flags fly
During an All Blacks game the flags fly

These motormen come from a range of backgrounds including; an economics professor, musicians, school principals, bank managers, and of course Roy Sinclair, an author.

On my most recent trip back to Christchurch (February 2016) I was a guest of Welcome Aboard with a combo ticket to travel on the tram, gondola, punting and the delightful, and informative Caterpillar Tour in the Botanic Gardens – all of which will appear in another blog. Now, let these photos tell the story of our trams.

For some history about Christchurch trams see this library website

NOTE: This is one of a series of posts about Christchurch. See this recent post about the 2010/11 quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

 

Thank-you to Breakfree On Cashel for hosting me during part of my stay in the city – I will be writing a small blog about that soon

 

Christchurch: nearly a Gothic Revival UNESCO World Heritage Site

web museumAbout two months before the September 2010 quakes, a Christchurch mayoral candidate, Jim Anderton, said if he became mayor he would push for Christchurch to have World Heritage Status for the city’s unique Gothic Revival buildings. It appeared that no city in the world had a more complete collection of Gothic revival buildings of such high quality and so well-preserved.

I attended a meeting, in the Gothic Arts Centre, to hear about such a proposal. He said, “these Victorian buildings date back to the 1850s and, as a group, are of enormous international significance. They represent the outcome of the furthest migration of any group of people in human history.” Apparently, Canterbury was the last and most successful of the colonisation schemes of Edward Gibbon Wakefield.

Anderton continued, “They are more than bricks and mortar, they are at the heart of our city and remind us every day of those pioneers searching for a better world on the other side of the globe.” I left the meeting having decided to vote for Jim because of this proposal.

Repairs and strengthening well underway
Repairs and strengthening are well under way

Early European settlers of course bought their values with them and expressed some of that in their architecture and appreciation of open spaces – which was also happening in New York where Central Park was just being established too.  [interestingly, and nothing to do with the meeting or the Gothic buildings, I believe the land which became the Botanic Gardens was given to the city by the Scottish Deans brother’s – they wanted a barrier between them, and Riccarton, and the new English arrivals – I’m sure many of the local tangata whenua would have liked the same.]

Over three decades many Gothic revival buildings – built in local grey stone – and none of which were exact copies of the English versions . This and the scale as well as the use of timber, started a city with its own characteristics, not a replica of what they’d left.

The Canterbury quakes (2010/11) of course put this UNESCO proposal on the back burner, however, many of the proposed sites consist of the most significant 19th century public buildings associated with the founding of the city have not been demolished because of the quakes: these include Christchurch Cathedral, (although still under review) the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings, (the only complete surviving examples of government buildings from the provincial period of colonial society in New Zealand) and the former Canterbury University, previously Canterbury College and now the Arts Centre, and both are now being restored and quake-proofed.

The Canterbury Museum had received a lot of quake strengthening work and it suffered minimal damage during the quakes.

Council Chambers
Council Chambers

The 1865 Council Chambers is internationally recognized as an outstanding example of High Victorian Gothic architecture, and on a personal level, is where my first book launch was held and is on the list to be restored, as is the old Presbyterian Trinity Church which for many years has been a restaurant.

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (now at Rangi Ruru School), built in a simple, and wooden, Gothic style in the late 1800s: my parents, grandparents, and many more of my ancestors  married in this church – a reminder that not all Christchurch settlers were English.

Other inner-city Gothic buildings surviving the quakes include Christ’s College, and sort of surviving, the facades post office in the square and the former A.J. White’s building in High Street.

Not in the city, but Gothic nevertheless, was a prosaic Gothic building, the old Addington Prison which is now backpacker accommodation known of course as the Jailhouse! Naturally, with my ‘colourful’ background, I have history here too – having picked up people there, who were no longer guests of the state, and have stayed in the backpackers.

*See recent posts about the quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

 

Is there an elephant in the room? Christchurch, New Zealand

 

As part of my upcoming series of blogs about Christchurch let’s first talk about the elephant in the room. In other words, the earthquakes that shook my city in 2010 – 2011.

I left Christchurch some eight weeks after the September 2010 quake, not because of the 7.3 quake or its many aftershocks, but a decision that had been made in May that year. Since then, I have returned to Christchurch on dozens of occasions so, although I have not lived through the many but normal aftershocks, I have closely seen the devastation wrought on my city.

My roots are deep in this wonderful city: my Cornish maternal roots arrived here in 1862, while my Scottish paternal roots arrived in 1873 – and there they remained, planted and flourishing on the stony plains and peninsula ever since. During this series of blogs, I will be talking about Christchurch as it is post-quake, as well as linking it to my past.

My frequent trips down from Wellington, and usually staying in the city centre, means I’ve watched the continuing journey as a new city emerges. Let’s not pull any punches, Christchurch will never be the old Christchurch again. While I mourn this loss I also celebrate the new – as it is emerging. Those seismic shocks have and are certainly changing the face of the city.

An air of creativity and innovation flows through the city but unfortunately it seems many locals are not aware of this, and say they don’t come into the city as there is nothing to do. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Tourists, and those working in the city centre, are well aware of many things to do. Some of it involves quake tourism of course, for others it’s checking out the huge artworks around the CBD, taking their kids to the magnificent Margaret Mahy playground, promenading, dining and shopping along New Regent Street, which I believe, is now Christchurch’s oldest retail area.

One thing I became very aware of during my last visit (February 2016) is how many tourists still find the devastation hard to handle and often only stay a night or two. One of the difficulties for them seems to be they are unsure what is actual ‘quake damage’ and what has been demolished ‘because of’ the quake. (NOTE: I again suggest the council or some other such body create a historic plaque to state “This building is a quake survivor’ for building owners to use).

It also seems that many find the city-wide building sites noisy and annoying, whereas I see them as a sign of vitality of the city and positive growth. Unfortunately, it seems travellers many arrive at the airport grab their campervan or rental car and take off, heading south or west. Many I spoke to said they’d been told by people in other parts of New Zealand ‘there is nothing to see down there.’ Most said they were thrilled they had ignored the ill informed advice.

Nice curves on one of the new buildings
Nice curves on one of the new buildings

To learn about the quake, I can absolutely recommend Quake City, a Canterbury Museum project, on Cashel Mall. Our city centre lost 80% of its buildings, not because they fell down, but because they had to be demolished as being unsafe, this means Christchurch has had much of its history erased.

The sad deaths, from the February 2011 6.3 quake, occurred mostly in two relatively modern buildings which did collapse. The artwork of white chairs as a memorial to them is  on the site of my old church: St Paul’s Trinity Pacific, which growing up as a city kid, was the church I attended, and married in, and in those days was just called St Paul’s: it too was a quake casualty.

So, whether you live in Christchurch, or are visiting for a few days, make sure you see the real city centre and learn our history, not just the oft-repeated, lazy writing about Christchurch, as being conservative, just like England, or other such nonsense, this is a new city, developing new roots, and growing on top of our old foundations.

As well is reading some of the many books, stories, and poems that have sprung up post-quake you can also follow my blogs about Christchurch, so I can introduce you to the new as well is the old. Don’t forget many of our buildings (20% remember) survived, albeit most needing repairs, some major, some minor, but we still have many of our wonderful Gothic buildings in use.

So yes the ‘elephant in the room’, our seismic shakes, have jolted us, have left many traumatised, homes and businesses are gone, but a new, hopefully greener, city is emerging, and despite, or because of, my deep roots in Christchurch I celebrate that new city and feel excited every time something old reopens, or something new opens. Of course I am sad that much of my personal history is gone,  however, looking over my shoulder at something no longer there is wasting time and energy that I prefer to use positively.

Despite now living in Wellington, I’m a Cantabrian through and through, one-eyed, wearing red and black, and cheering on our sports teams, and the rebuild!  However, this does not mean I wear pink coloured glasses when writing about the city. At times I have been and will be critical, especially at locals who voice many opinions about the inner city, despite not having visited the CBD for months, or even years; a heavy-handed government making decisions they have no right to make, or delay; and the Anglican church for the damage their wrecking ball inflicted on the cathedral, and the continuing damage they are allowing by not closing the building to the elements. I believe they caused more damage than the quakes did.

Next week: our gothic buildings.

Thank-you to Breakfree On Cashel for hosting me during part of my stay in the city.

Detail of the Chalice - public art in'the square'
Detail of the Chalice – public art in the square