The month of June 1918 started pleasantly enough for Canterbury. However, as the weeks progressed, the good weather soon gave way to frequent rain. By 27 June, snow had started to fall in the back country. Then, on the afternoon of Sunday 30 June, the temperature in Christchurch plummeted and the sky darkened. Snow fell on the city, but did not settle. Soon it was replaced by rain which continued to fall throughout the evening.
Further inland, the snow kept falling. As it steadily built up, the weight of it caused the chimneys and roofs of rural houses to collapse. Livestock which couldn’t find shelter were buried. Telegraph lines were bent. The railway lines became completely snowed under, with the West Coast train stuck at Waddington.
Canterbury was completely cut off from the rest of the country.
Throughout the day the power in Christchurch began to falter. Then, at 3.50pm, the south transmission line from the hydroelectric scheme at Lake Coleridge failed.
Monday 1 July
When the people of Christchurch awoke on Monday morning they found that the city was cut off from its main power supply. Throughout the night, attempts had been made to repair the south transmission line, but by 2.40am it had failed. This was followed at 6am, with power failures on the north transmission line.
The Tramway Board and the City Council municipal plants were able to supply a limited amount of power to the city, using coal provided by local coal merchants and the Railway Department. Yet the restricted amount caused the power to remain intermittent.
Lawrence Birks, the Public Works Department (PWD) Chief Electrical Engineer for Canterbury aimed to establish where the breaks had occurred on the north and south transmission lines, and began to organise for men to get through to the power house at Lake Coleridge.
Tuesday 2 July
The superintendent at the Lake Coleridge power house was Archibald George Rennie Blackwood. Realising that Christchurch was without power, he set out, with a couple of workers, using a dray drawn by two horses, hoping to find the location of the fault in the transmission lines. After an accident forced them to leave the dray behind, they continued on through the snow with the horses. Eventually they reached Snowden Hut, where they camped for the night.
Meanwhile, an attempt to establish communication with the rural township of Coalgate was made by PWD employee, Robert Allen. Setting out on foot from Darfield, he staggered through the snow and managed to reach his destination, exhausted.
Another attempt was also made by Harold and William Jones. Travelling in a motorcycle with a side car, they departed the Addington substation at midday and reached Hororata by 2pm. Despite being warned to turn back, they pushed on. As the evening approached, with the intention of reaching Snowdon, the brothers were overtaken by two PWD cars. One of the cars had been fitted with a snow plough, but was soon forced to turn back. The other contained another PWD employee, Boris Daniels.
The brothers soon found that the wheels of their motorcycle were hindered by the ruts left behind by the PWD car’s snow plough. After attempting to push the motorcycle, they were forced to discard it and continue on foot. Wading through three miles of deep snow, they finally reached Hororata at 10pm, where they were put up for the night.
Meanwhile Boris Daniels, after overtaking the two brothers in the PWD car, had reached Hororata at 6pm. A Russian, he had been loaned a pair of skis which had formerly belonged to Robert Falcon Scott. Setting out immediately, he reached Mount Hutt, where he rested, having been forbidden by Birks from continuing on through the night.
Wednesday 3 July
The next morning, with their clothes still damp, Harold and William Jones made the return journey back to their motorcycle. Since the ruts which had previously impeded them were now filled with frozen water, they were able to return to Hororata. However, upon arriving, they learned that Boris Daniels had already set off, with the likelihood of reaching Lake Coleridge.
Earlier that morning, Blackwood, the power house superintendent, and his men had also left Snowden Hut, reaching Point Hut by midday.
Having set out on his skis, Boris Daniels found himself confronted by a vast, white landscape. In many places the snow was three feet deep, allowing him to simply jump over any fences which normally would have been a barrier. Throughout his journey, he encountered sheep which, without any shelter, had become buried, the only sign that they were still alive being their noses poking through the snow. When he reached Brackendale Hut, he was met by two men on horses who had been trying to reach Lake Coleridge but to no avail. Continuing onwards, he finally encountered Blackwood and the team from the power house at the line’s highest point. Together, they returned to Brackendale Hut and spent the night in a nearby farm house.
From Christchurch, another attempt was made, with three PWD cars setting out in the morning and one in the afternoon. The last car contained G.F. Ferguson, the assistant engineer of the Lake Coleridge scheme, C.P. Agar, and two journalists. Upon reaching Hororata, they found that the other cars which had preceded them had been abandoned. Continuing on to Coalgate, the depth of the snow meant that they often had to get out and push the vehicle. Eventually they reached their destination where, after a meal, they ventured out into the frozen night on foot to examine the damaged lines.
Thursday 4 July
With only a sporadic amount of electricity to rely on, Christchurch had been brought to a near standstill. Factories were unable to operate effectively to meet production deadlines. Workers were sent home. The trams which were able to run did so with no lighting. Businesses whose trading hours normally extended into the evening were forced to close. When the automatic stoker of the Tramway plant failed, the workers resorted to manual hand stoking and using inferior coal, which caused a reduction in the pressure.
On Thursday morning, G.F. Ferguson, C.P. Agar. J. Reeves and R. Young set out from Coalgate for Lake Coleridge on horses. By midday they had reached the house of Mr and Mrs Gilmour, who insisted that the party stay for lunch. Afterwards, the group pushed on to Round Stables Hut. The plan was that, if the lake power house was still out of contact, they would then proceed with a nocturnal march across the frozen snow.
However, upon reaching Round Stables Hut, they managed to make contact with the power house, only to learn that another group, which had reached Hawkins Hut, had beaten them by mere minutes.
As the repair teams started to fix the transmission lines, they found that the weight of the snow had caused the poles to bend and break. Because the current couldn’t be turned on until it was certain that the damaged isolators had been replaced and that the repair gangs were clear of the lines, it wasn’t until 8pm that they could start testing the lines.
Friday 5 July
By 10pm Friday, power had finally been restored to Christchurch, allowing for communication with Wellington to be established via the West Coast. However, eighteen miles of telegraph line between Christchurch and Kaikoura still remained damaged. Smaller townships such as Waikari, Hawarden, Culverden and Waiau would remain isolated until 12 July.
Over the following days, life returned to normal for the people of Christchurch. Many may have rushed to purchase the Delco-Light electric generators from the Farmers store, which took advantage of the situation to advertise their stock. Yet for many, although they had experienced late trams, closed shops, and a lack of lighting, the loss of these conveniences was not as nearly as distressing as the absence of the news regarding the war in Europe.
Winter ailments are striking early. In library after library staff are succumbing to lurgies and being booked off work. When it happened to me, my first thought was: Goodie, now I will read all the books on my shelves that I’ve not had time for.
I started with My Name is Lucy Barton. This was the wrong book at the wrong time. Lucy is sick in hospital having a disjointed trip down memory lane with a truly dysfunctional mother. It is beautifully written, but a Get Well Soon read it is not.
Unfazed, my hand reached out for The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I needed a life change, and heaven knows the cupboards were long overdue for a bit of attention. After one chapter I lost the will to live. There is only so much origami-like folding of underwear that an invalid can handle. Instead I selected The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k (How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do With People You Don’t Like.) That’s more like it!
Next up Hygge. This is a Danish word for the concept of Happiness. I soon realised that I had been mispronouncing it for months. Irrationally, this kind of wrong-footing really annoys me. I still call it Higgy*. Anyway, it is the trend du jour. I was feeling quite ho-hum about it all until it got to the bit where you feel all higgy because you do generous things. I had my usual perverse reaction to this. Who exactly is feeling good here? The giver or the givee? Just for the record I would be enraged if people kept leaving little containers of home-made jam on my doorstep and hung freshly baked bread rolls from my front doorknob. Clearly I was not in a good mental space.
And that’s when I realised that I was going about this Sick Leave reading all the wrong way. What I really wanted to do was rip out my lungs and have a go at them with a meat cleaver. I wanted violence. I was after blood. In quick succession I read two wonderful murder mysteries (The Fire Maker by Peter May and I Shot the Buddha by Colin Cotterill) and followed them up with my first Literary Western (The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt). I felt better almost immediately.
We may have put an end to blood letting and the use of leeches in modern medicine. But that doesn’t stop it from being the way to go when you are feeling enraged by ill health. Give it a try!
*[Ed: For the curious it’s closer to “hoo-ga”. You’re welcome]
The Festival runs over nine days from 18 to 27 June, and this year incorporates the Alliance Française Christchurch Musical Festival on opening night. The programme features a street party (the dress up theme is ‘Futuristic’), a masquerade ball, music, waiata, food and wine, live poetry performances, storytelling, and, of course, fireworks.
The Festival runs over nine days from 13 to 21 June, and this year boasts two stages active throughout the night, on London Street and at Albion Square. The programme features a parade, masquerade balls, music, waiata, food and wine, live poetry performances, art exhibitions, and, of course, fireworks.
It’s winter and I am not advocating heading for the snow, but to the kitchen. This a winter food rave. You see, for me the best thing about this season is… WINTER FOOD!
Does this grab you like it does me? Steak, Caramelised Onion and Red Capsicum Mustard Pies from a simply named but lip-smacking cookbook: Pie, by Dean Brettschneider. It helps that the pictures are of perfectly made pastry, of course. Mine never looks like this, more of a patchwork quilt effect. Normally pastry is something I avoid as being too fiddly, but some of these pies are going to have to cross my lips and settle on the hips.
I have become a bit of a cookbook stalker since working daily with library books. One I came across was Slow by Allyson Gofton. Most of the recipes I had never seen before and that’s always a huge drawcard. I’ve been a bit wary of using the slow cooker for vege dishes, but the North African Vegetable & Lentil Stew, on page 279, was a huge success and the eggplant held together beautifully.
Smoked Haddock and Shrimp Chowder and/or Yellow Split Pea and Frankfurter Soup from Soup Kitchen have also taken my fancy. The latter sounds interesting, but could have some startling after effects. It’s one of Nigella “Who needs chocolate” Lawson’s contributions. Among the other contributors are Mr “Beep Beep” Ramsay, Jamie “Lips” Oliver, Rick “My Hero” Stein, and Hugh “Three Good Things” Fearnley-Whittingstall is the editor. It’s hard to go past soup and in my freezer there’s Tomato and Roast Capsicum Soup (blended with a few Jalapeno peppers), waiting for suitable soup weather… and possibly the purchase of a fire extinguisher.
If there’s room, and it pays to leave some, What’s for Pudding? used to be the greeting we offered my poor mother as soon as we had finished the main meal. Two of my childhood faves, Bread and Butter Pudding, and Golden Syrup Steamed Pudding are represented in Alexa Johnston’s yummy book, but Gingerbread Upside Down Pudding or Apricot Betty sound even better.
Hungry now? What are your winter food favourites? Much used cook books? Did you bring any family dishes from your homeland?
This leaves me feeling and probably looking like a Roly Poly Pudding!
Every winter is the same in our household. He-who-loves-me asks, “Do you think is is going to snow in Christchurch this winter?” Every winter I say, “Yes” and he says, “It never snows in Christchurch”.
However, I think statistics are on my side. I moved to Christchurch in the winter of 1988 and every year, with the exception of two, there has been snow on our front lawn. Admittedly, it usually isn’t much. Some years we have struggled to find enough snow on the lawn to have a snowball fight; other years, we can make a snowman. The snow is usual gone by lunchtime.
There has been the odd occasion when the snowfall has been dramatic. The driveway has disappeared, school has been cancelled and getting to work has been ‘an adventure’. I try to be prepared for these events. I keep my boots handy so I can go outside without breaking my neck. Woolly socks are dug out of the back of the sock drawer and I make sure I have a good supply of DVDs and books.
We all need a bit of colour in our lives in winter to cheer us up.
The Council, the Art Gallery and local artists are all doing a great job of keeping colour in our city at the moment with murals, art work, painted street furniture and flowers popping up everywhere in the central city
I don’t think I’ll be painting any murals at home, but my garden is colourful with winter flowering Sasanqua Camellias. I also love plants with berries and roses that have colourful hips to add colour during the winter months.
Choosing the right winter garden plants , planting up the vege garden for ornamental value are easy with these useful guides and Yates guide will tell you everything you need to know about what to do in the garden in winter.