This week in Christchurch history (16 to 22 November)

16 November 1901
Earthquake (most severe at Cheviot) damages Cathedral spire again. After this third incident, the top of the spire was re-built in timber and metal instead of stone.

17 November 1895
Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) visits. He described Christchurch as a town where half the people rode bicycles and the other half were kept busy dodging them.

18 November 1947
Disastrous fire in Ballantynes Department store. 41 lives lost in New Zealand’s worst fire tragedy. The fire led to drastic revisions of fire safety codes throughout the country.

Aerial view of the gutted shell of the three-storied department building [20 Nov. 1947]
Aerial view of the gutted shell of the three-storied department building [20 Nov. 1947], CCL PhotoCD 1, IMG0016
21 November 1865
Provincial Council buildings in Durham Street completed. The complex of buildings was architect B.W. Mountfort’s masterpiece. He had survived a professional disaster soon after arrival in New Zealand when his first building, a church in Lyttelton, had proved structurally unsound and had to be demolished.

Provincial Government Buildings, corner of Durham and Armagh Streets, Christchurch , [ca. 1885]
Provincial Government Buildings, corner of Durham and Armagh Streets, Christchurch , [ca. 1885], CCL PhotoCD 12, IMG0084
22 November 1986
Visit by Pope John Paul II (the first head of the Catholic Church to visit New Zealand).

22 November 1987
Trans Alpine express train, designed specifically for the tourist trade, begins its daily run from Christchurch to Greymouth.

More November events in the Christchurch chronology: a timeline of Christchurch events in chronological order from pre-European times to 1989.

9 thoughts on “This week in Christchurch history (16 to 22 November)

  1. Roger Strong 16 November 2015 / 9:59 am

    I recall Ballantynes fire all those years ago-such a tragedy. You can see from this aerial photo taken after the fire that the department store had expanded in the years before 1947 by buying up the neighbouring buildings and then simply punching holes through to the next building. This set up a series of potential fire traps especially when you consider that the fire almost certainly started in the basement of one of the buildings. I would like to see all of the photos taken of the fire put together in one site.

    • Roger Strong 16 November 2015 / 2:39 pm

      Thanks very much for those-some I haven’t seen before. I saw the fire as a 6 year old and my father was a fireman at the corner of Cashel and Columbo Streets-as the driver he stayed with the engine at the back of the appliance – so I know exactly where he was but can’t find any pictures of him. I am surprised at how few pictures there are of the fire in progress and also how close the public were to what was a very dangerous situation.

      • Vanessaccl 17 November 2015 / 9:51 pm

        Hello Roger, that must have been a very scary day for you as a child. Hope you are able to find photos of your father on that day.

        I’ve searched the catalogue and I see that we have a few photos in our Archives, including these. I am not sure whether they would be of any help, but if you are interested you might want to check our archives page for how to gain access. It might also be worthwhile giving us a call on 941-7923.

      • Roger Strong 17 November 2015 / 10:12 pm

        I have checked most of the photos that are readily available from your files. Most photographs were taken I think by the photographers from the Press -which was in the Square – a matter of two blocks from the fire and possibly from the other newspaper the Star-Sun which no longer exists. There are also some photographs in the book written by Gordon Wilson although the book is mainly concerned with the reasons for the fire and the inquiry that was held afterwards. There may also have been private photographs taken of the fire-as you can see, unlike today, the public were allowed quite close to the fire-in spite of the obvious danger. Many photos of the fire are presented out of any sequence so sometimes its difficult to work out quite when they were taken. I would suggest the in this digital age all the photographs could be properly arranged and catalogued- especially before the 70th anniversary of the fire.
        There were of course a number of private commercial photographers in the Christchurch CBD.

  2. Roger Strong 17 November 2015 / 10:16 pm

    Sorry – that should read Gordon Walker not Gordon Wilson.

    • Vanessaccl 19 November 2015 / 12:07 pm

      Hello Roger, sorry for not replying earlier – I was on leave yesterday, Thank you for the suggestion. I will pass it on to our Digital Content team for their consideration. Would you like someone to get back in contact with you about it?

      • Roger Strong 19 November 2015 / 12:52 pm

        Yes I would like someone to get back to me if they could see a way to collect all of the photographs about this fire which was not only important in the history of Christchurch but ultimately has had a huge effect on the whole country.

  3. Vanessaccl 19 November 2015 / 1:13 pm

    Hello Roger, could you please email your preferred contact details (email or phone) to, attention Vanessa? I will make sure they get forwarded to the appropriate person. Thank you.

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