100 years ago today: Sign of the Kiwi opens

In June 1917, the new tea house at the summit of Dyer’s Pass was officially opened.

“The new house at Dyer’s Pass, now half an hour’s walk from the tram terminus, appears destined to be known just as the Rest House, although in some quarters it is called the Toll House. It is a tea house unique in New Zealand.” (Star, 9 June 1917)

The building, designed by Samuel Hurst Seager, was described in the Star as “An inviting flight of red stone steps leads to the entrance, an open porch, with big plate-glass windows at each end. Across the porch is a deep jarrah beam, bearing the quaint carved inscription:-”

Jog on, jog on, the footpath way,
And merrily hent the stile-a,
A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a

The Sign Of The Kiwi   A Car And Excursionists In Front Of The Sign Of The Kiwi, Dyers Pass, Summit Road, Christchurch   Interior, Sign Of The Kiwi   Toll Gate And Lantern, Sign Of The Kiwi   Serenity & Shadow   Plinth Of The Sign Of The Kiwi, Dyers Pass, Port Hills, Christchurch

The Sign of the Kiwi, as it would later be known, was the third of four rest-houses that had been envisaged by Harry Ell as part of the Summit Road Scenic Reserve scheme. Unlike the other rest-houses, the Sign of the Kiwi, was planned to include a toll-house with the collected tolls going towards the construction of the remainder of the road. The Kiwi also provided tearooms, which Harry’s wife, Ada, took over managing in 1920. The collection of tolls and the management of the tearoom attracted some controversy and Harry would often write to the local papers letting his feelings be known about this subject.

In the 1940s the building was closed by the Department of Lands and Survey with responsibility for it being handed over to the Christchurch City Council after 1948. The building was then used as a custodian’s house and modified so that the only public access was to the porch. In 1989 the council began restoration of the Sign of the Kiwi to its original state and it was opened again as a refreshment and information centre.

The building was damaged in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake but after undergoing repairs it was reopened in January 2017.

Read more about the Sign of the Kiwi, Harry Ell and the Summit Road.

Follow our tweets from @100chch to discover life and events 100 years ago in Christchurch and Canterbury.

Thanks Harry!

Head and shoulders portrait of Henry George Ell, 1914
Henry George Ell. S P Andrew Ltd :Portrait negatives. Ref: 1/1-013861-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22750368

Thank you, Harry Ell.

Without your dedicated work over many years, the residents and tourists in Christchurch wouldn’t have the wonderful reserves of the Port Hills to walk, cycle and play in.

Henry George Ell was a husband, father, soldier, stationer, politician, prohibitionist, conservationist, and was the driving force behind the establishment of the reserves on the Port Hills, and the building of the Summit Road. By the time of his death in 1934, some 500 acres of reserves had been created, with the help of his “Ell’s Angels”. His Summit Road scheme was a very important employer in the time of the Depression, although he himself was a known as a tough taskmaster.

His vision was to have a series of resthouses along the Summit Road for use and enjoyment of people walking – hence the Sign of the Takahe (built last, and finished in 1949 after his death), Sign of the Bellbird, Sign of the Kiwi and Sign of the Packhorse. The resthouses were designed by Samuel Hurst Seager.

Dr Cockayne and Harry Ell [1904] CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0058
Dr Cockayne and Harry Ell
[1904] CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0058
Along with his work on the Port Hills, Harry Ell served as a Christchurch City Councillor (1903, 1917-19), and a Member Parliament (1899-1919) where he worked to improve schooling, the banking system, access to Old Age Pensions, and was instrumental in the passing of the Scenery Preservation Act. He is really remembered for his work as conservationist: he wanted to preserve forests to conserve soil and water, and create reserves and afforestation programmes to ensure adequate timber supplies and to provide better training for scientific foresters.

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