Story: Canterbury places

Page 8. Central Christchurch

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The magnitude 6.3 earthquake that hit Christchurch on 22 February 2011 destroyed buildings in the central city and caused 185 deaths. Many of the buildings had been weakened by the magnitude 7.3 earthquake that affected the city on 4 September 2010. On 30 July 2012 the Christchurch Central Development Unit of CERA (the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) issued a Blueprint Plan for the rebuilding of the city inside the four avenues. 

The Avon River

This river rises from springs in the western suburbs, winds through the city and north-eastern suburbs, and enters the estuary it shares with the Heathcote River. Christchurch was built on the first extensive area of dry land above the rivermouth.

The river’s Māori name was Ōtakaro. It was later named after the Avon River in Ayrshire, home of the Deans brothers, settler farmers. The river banks, with neat lawns, gardens and trees, add to the city’s English character. Raupō, flax and rushes have been planted to evoke its original appearance.

A stretch at the Fitzgerald Avenue bridge was long used as a rowing course (this is now downstream at Kerr’s Reach). Recreational boating through the central city remains popular.

Victoria Square

Originally the Market Square, with a motley collection of buildings, Victoria Square became open green space at the time of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897. It was renamed in 1903 when a statue of Queen Victoria was unveiled. After the present Town Hall opened on the square in 1972, stretches of adjacent streets were closed and the area was landscaped. The square was badly affected by the February 2011 earthquake and was closed until November 2012. The town hall was badly damaged but eventually restored. A large hotel overlooking the square was demolished, but the casino to the north-west was relatively undamaged and remained open.

Cathedral Square

Originally Ridley Square, this cross-shaped space in central Christchurch was, like Latimer and Cranmer squares, named after an Anglican martyr. Its Gothic Revival cathedral, designed by English architect George Gilbert Scott, was begun in 1864 and completed in 1904. The cathedral was severely damaged in the February 2011 earthquake, but is to be rebuilt with substantial taxpayer assistance.

The First World War memorial by William Trethewey and the large sculpture ‘Chalice’ (2001) by Neil Dawson were unscathed, but the statue of John Robert Godley toppled over and was damaged.

The square was closed until July 2013 when the cordon around the red zone was lifted. Efforts to draw pedestrians back included art installations and floral displays. The Blueprint Plan envisaged a performing arts precinct, a library and a convention centre to the north of the square.

The Māori name for Christchurch

Christchurch takes its Māori name, Ōtautahi, from the of Tautahi, once situated on the banks of the Avon River. The pā (fortified village) was near where European settlers unloaded vessels that brought goods up the Avon.

High Street precinct

Commercial and retail area just south of Cathedral Square, down High and Colombo streets and three cross streets – Hereford, Cashel and Lichfield. It contained historic commercial and industrial buildings, many of which were damaged in the February 2011 earthquake. Cashel Street saw the first recovery of retail shopping in the inner city with the establishment of a Re-start mall based on shipping containers. The Blueprint Plan envisages this area as the future retail precinct.

Along the river north of the Bridge of Remembrance (a First World War memorial), a thriving bar district known as ‘The Strip’ was destroyed by the earthquake.

The cultural precinct

Area of Worcester Boulevard between Cathedral Square and the Canterbury Museum, designated a ‘cultural precinct’ in the early 2000s. The Gothic grey-stone buildings formerly occupied by the university became a flourishing arts centre. There was severe damage to the buildings in the February 2011 earthquake, but a major restoration project heralded the return of arts activity. The Christchurch City Art Gallery on the corner of Worcester Boulevard and Montreal Street functioned as the civil defence headquarters after the February 2011 earthquake. However, the building suffered damage to its foundations and the gallery closed. It reopened in December 2015.

Hagley Park

Public park with playing fields and deciduous trees, named after the English estate of Lord Lyttelton, a Canterbury Association leader. The park is divided by roads into three sections – Little Hagley (a woodland), and North and South Hagley. In South Hagley, one of the country’s oldest sporting buildings, an 1860s pavilion, stands by the cricket oval, which was developed for international matches following the loss of Jade Stadium (formerly Lancaster Park). In 1906–7 much of North Hagley Park was used for the New Zealand International Exhibition. In the 1960s a plan to build a motorway across North Hagley Park was bitterly opposed, and finally quashed.

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens lie within a loop of the Avon River that was designated a government domain (park). Some of its magnificent trees were planted in the 1860s and 1870s.

The four avenues

Major roads bordering the inner city. When first laid out, the city’s southern, eastern and northern sides were defined by wide streets, later renamed Moorhouse, Fitzgerald and Bealey avenues. Antigua Street north of the Avon River was renamed Rolleston Avenue. ‘Within the four avenues’ means the inner city.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Canterbury places - Central Christchurch', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 July 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 14 Sep 2006, reviewed & revised 6 Jul 2015, updated 17 Aug 2015