Winter sports in Canterbury: Mountaineering

The train was already late when it arrived at Arthur’s Pass on the morning of 30 July 1933.

On board were members of three different tramping clubs, including those of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club and the Canterbury College University Tramping Club. Undeterred by the bad weather which had already set in, a disorganised mass of nearly forty individuals with no real leadership set out to climb Avalanche Peak. By the time they reached the snowline only twenty members remained, the others having already turned back. Although visibility was by now greatly reduced, they pushed on into the falling snow and driving wind. At the forefront were two experienced climbers, Andrew Anderson and William Brough. When they were nearly two hundred feet from the summit the mountain finally lived up to its name.

An avalanche crashed down the slope, knocking them over and scattering equipment. After checking to see if anyone was missing, the rest of the party decided to turn back, leaving Anderson and Brough to summit on their own. They were successful and managed to safely descend to the village at Arthur’s Pass. There they joined the rest of the club members in boarding the return train to Christchurch.

It wasn’t until the train had left the station that people finally realised that Samuel Edgar Russell, a university student, was missing. Some club members disembarked at Springfield station and caught a ride on a truck back to Arthur’s Pass where they began to organise a search. Teams of climbers scoured the mountain over the next few days, but it wasn’t until August 6 that Russell’s body was found buried by the avalanche. His tragic death served to highlight the dangers that awaited those who ventured into Canterbury’s mountains, regardless of how well equipped and experienced one might be.

Arthur’s Pass, as it was for six weeks before the opening of the tunnel, with frosts on top of the snow for four weeks. [1923] File Reference Selwyn photograph 3121369.

Kā Tiritiri-o-te-Moana, the Southern Alps.

The earliest account of mountaineering in Canterbury is attributed to a Ngāti Wairangi woman, Raureka, and her slave companion, Kapakeha. In 1700, after a disagreement with her community, they crossed the Southern Alps at a point which today is known as Noti Raureka-Browning Pass. Their chance encounter with a party of Ngāi Tahu led to the establishment of the pounamu trade between the east and west coast tribes. The increase in this trade prompted the discovery of further mountain passes. Sustained by a sparse diet of dried berries, eels and weka, the explorers journeyed into these remote heights did so with only flax ropes and sandals as a means of overcoming the inhospitable terrain.

Following the European settlement of Canterbury, surveyors such as Arthur Dobson, often accompanied by Māori guides, followed these pre-established routes into the Southern Alps to map the terrain for the local government. Despite these initial forays, it wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that mountaineering came to be considered a recreational activity. This was largely due to the efforts of Cantabrians such as George Edward Mannering and Arthur Paul Harper. Not wishing to see the peaks of the Southern Alps conquered by foreigners, they set about developing a New Zealand tradition of mountaineering which they disseminated through works such as Mannering’s With Axe and Rope in the New Zealand Alps (1891).

A little-known holiday ground: the Bealey glacier district. File Reference Selwyn photograph 3051333.

Their efforts led to the formation of the New Zealand Alpine Club in 1891, the first meeting of which was held in Warner’s Hotel in Cathedral Square. The aim of the club was to teach the mountaineering methods that were practiced in the European Alps, gather geographical knowledge of New Zealand’s mountains, and establish routes. In December that year, Mannering led the first expedition to summit low peak on Mount Rolleston near Arthur’s Pass (however the mountain wasn’t successfully climbed until 1912).

The Headquarters of Mountaineering in Canterbury

In 1923 the Midland Railway line, which followed the old coach road from Christchurch to Greymouth, was officially opened. The mountains surrounding the village of Arthur’s Pass were now easily accessible to those trampers who, having tested themselves on the Port Hills, now wished to advance to more strenuous challenges. As such, the region soon became known as the “headquarters of mountaineering in Canterbury” and in 1925 the Canterbury Mountaineering Club was formed. However, the glory of climbing the highest peak in the region, Mount Murchison, had already been attained in 1913 by Charles Ward and Arthur Talbot.

Affordable train fares to Arthur’s Pass only served to attract further visitors to the settlement, with 20,000 people visiting in 1927. However, the sudden influx of visitors began to take its toll on the local environment. A common complaint was the habit of visitors to pick mountain flowers, often taking more than was necessary. In 1928, Guy Butler, who had opened the Arthur’s Pass Hostel in 1926, petitioned for the region to receive official protection. In 1929 the area was designated as a national park, the first in the South Island.

Since then the village has continued to draw visitors, both local and foreign, who use it as a base from which to venture forth into the surrounding mountains. While many are fortunate enough to make frequent return journeys, for others, such as Samuel Edgar Russell, the mountains can prove fatal.

Mountaineering in the Southern Alps around the late 1940s by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

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Winter Sports in Canterbury: Ice Skating

At first glance there seems nothing remarkable about the swampy scrubland which lies in the shadow of Mount Harper on the northern banks of the Rangitata River. Separated from the valley road by the braided course of the river, it is easily bypassed by tourists, as they journey further inland to visit Mount Sunday, the filming location for Edoras in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is only when you closely examine the area using Google Maps satellite imaging that you notice an unusual circular patch of land. Long since overgrown, it shows signs of having been altered by human activity at some stage in its past.

A physical journey to the site, itself a difficult undertaking unless you are in possession of a boat or a 4WD, would offer more clues. There you would find the ruined remains of concrete culverts, causeways, bund walls, machinery, and buildings. These are the only reminders of a facility which, at one point, attracted up to 3,000 people in a single day; the Mount Harper ice rink.

Colonial pastime

Even at the beginning of the twentieth century, ice skating was already a well established pursuit for those who lived on the remote back country stations in the foothills of the Canterbury mountains. For early settlers in the nineteenth century, the winter months could be bleak and gloomy. One of the means of passing the time for those residing in the high country was ice skating. Newcomers to the region were told of lakes set further inland, which froze so hard during winter that a team of bullocks could be lead across the surface. Lake Ida, near Lake Coleridge, was one such popular destination for the sport.

http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/heritage/photos/collection22/02358.asp
Ice at Lake Ida [ca. 1953]. File Reference CCL Photo Collection 22, Img02358.
In the 1860s, the owner of the Lake Coleridge run, Charles Harper, used to organise week long skating parties in which people from surrounding stations would be invited to participate. Each day the group would meet at his station and ride out to the Lake Ida, where they would enjoy a day of skating. In her account, Station Life in New Zealand, Mary Anne Barker, describes the setting of one such outing:

“On either hand rose up, shear from the water’s edge, a great, barren, shingly mountain; before us loomed a dark pine forest, whose black shadows crept up until they merged in the deep crevasses and fissures of the Snowy Range.”

Weekends in the mountains

Prior to the construction of the Mount Harper rink in 1931 and 1932, ice skating in Canterbury had largely been confined either to these high country residents (some of whom made their own private rinks), or members of winter sports clubs (in 1930 the Canterbury Winter Sports Club began construction of an ice skating rink and toboggan run on Mount Cheeseman at the foot of the Craigieburn Range).

Although it was a pastime which couldn’t be so easily undertaken by the average citizen of Christchurch, it was still popular enough for a local industry to arise. By 1934 Ice skates were being manufactured locally at the firm of P. and D. Duncan who used boots made in Christchurch by Duckworth, Turner and Company Limited. It was in this same year that a synthetic ice skating rink opened in Christchurch on Kilmore Street opposite the Caledonian Hall (it is possible that it was not feasible to operate, as by 1936 it appears to have become a roller skating rink).

That outdoor skating was a popular activity for the people of Christchurch can be seen by a 1937 article in The Press which estimated that up to 600 people left the city every winter weekend to find suitable locations for skating.

http://ketechristchurch.peoplesnetworknz.info/site/images/show/23068-at-lake-ida-for-an-ice-skating-get-together#.WTCyHOuGPcs
At Lake Ida for an ice-skating get together by CCL Photo Hunt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

The Mount Harper ice rink

The Mount Harper rink was constructed by Wyndham Barker (1886-1958). The son of a Rangitata farmer, he developed a passion for ice skating while living abroad in Europe. Upon returning to Canterbury, it seems he had a desire to raise the profile of the sport in New Zealand. His rink would differ from other rinks in that it was the first purpose built public ice skating rink in Canterbury, and possibly the southern hemisphere.

The rink was set on land leased from Mount Possession Station, in a cold location which remained without sun between the months of May to August. After the first rink failed to prove satisfactory, another was constructed. The number of rinks expanded until there were at least eight (though not all were successful at forming ice). Buses would bring visitors all the way from Christchurch, and after crossing the Rangitata River on a punt, they would initially take in their surroundings from the warmth of the ‘skate shed’ (in reality more of a clubhouse and cafeteria) before venturing out onto the ice. There they could enjoy not only skating but tobogganing, curling, and ice yachting. Floodlights were also installed for those who were willing to brave the chill and skate at night.

Perhaps the most significant sport performed at the rink was ice hockey. In 1937 Barker established the Erewhon Cup, an ice hockey tournament which continues to this day.

The Mount Harper rink continued to provide the people of Canterbury with an array of winter sport activities until it was finally closed to the public in the 1950s. Left to fall into ruin, it is now located within the Hakatere Conservation Park and administered by the Department of Conservation.

Skating in the city

Skating In North Hagley Park by Kete Site Admin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

Despite the closure of the Mount Harper rink, the ice would soon come to Christchurch. When Victoria Lake in Hagley Park froze in 1945, it was followed by calls for a permanent artificial ice skating rink to be established in the city. In 1952 Centaurus ice rink opened at what is now 12 Centaurus Road, Cashmere. The rink operated until 1982 when it closed and was demolished. The location of the former rink became the site of Torvill and Dean Lane, which was named after British skaters, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Winter Olympics for ice dancing.

In 1985 the Alpine Ice rink opened on Brougham Street. Today, the venue is the home of the ice hockey team, the Canterbury Red Devils (formed in 2005).

Do you have any images of ice skating in Canterbury or of the former ice skating rinks which you would like to contribute to Kete Christchurch?

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Winter sports are a cinch with CINCH!

Cover of Children's Book of SportIt’s that time of year again. Junior sports clubs are gearing up for the winter sports season. It is time to get your children registered for their sport of choice.

A great resource you can use to find a club near you is the Libraries’ CINCH (Community INformation CHristchurch) directory which lists the sports clubs in the Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri areas.

To save you time (we like to be helpful like that!), we have prepared some search links for you. Once you have clicked on one of the links below, you can then click on the locations shown in the left hand column to find the clubs nearest to you.

  • Soccer
    Would your child enjoy the beautiful game?
  • Rugby
    New Zealand’s game of choice
  • Rugby League
    Is your child a future Kiwi or Kiwi Fern?
  • Hockey
    Is there a future Olympian at your house?
  • Netball
    Customarily the first choice for the girls

New Zealand has a wonderful tradition of sport fields filled with children on a Saturday morning. Most clubs have midget grades for the 4- to 6-year-olds, so it’s never too soon to start them. Plus watching the little ones is seriously cute! Have a chat with your wee one today.

Jacqui
Papanui Library