Founded in 1873, Canterbury College (now the University of Canterbury) was the second oldest university in New Zealand. The university was originally situated in the precinct of heritage listed buildings which is now known as the Christchurch Arts Centre prior to its relocation to the Ilam campus (beginning in 1961).
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My first memory of the Great Hall at the Christchurch Arts Centre is of sitting my exams in it during the last year it was still operating as a university. It was cold and cavernous and I can’t help feeling that its later use as a wedding venue and concert hall was a much better one.
The hall has hosted a wide variety of music over the years. Off the top of my head I remember listening to Michael Houston playing his way through the Beethoven piano sonatas (on a grand piano that seemed a bit out of sorts), several Jazz School end of year concerts – in the days before the auditorium opened at CPIT – and various other jazz groups during the Christchurch Jazz Festival.
I remember one local singer who had to tell her instrumentalists which song was next as she went, even having to sing the first line to them on one occasion – I guess that’s called improvising. I always regretted that work hours stopped me from attending the Lunchtime Concert Series which featured so many talented musicians.
Victorian Gothic architecture is beautiful, but it has its limitations and the heating problems were never really solved. However, up to 250 people and a roaring fire in the big old fireplace used to at least make it seem warm in winter. The high ceiling and all that wonderful kauri panelling made up for the heating by providing great acoustics.
Due to earthquake strengthening the hall survived the September earthquake quite well and it was available for events and functions from 1 February 2011. Until 22 February that is. Let’s hope this special venue resumes its role in the city’s cultural life soon.