The Antigua Boats Sheds

“The sheds are the most complete in the colony. They have a landing stage with a frontage of 200 feet to the river, ladies waiting room, gentleman’s dressing room, and besides all these easily house the 38 boats, accommodating from 1 to 15 persons each, the 16 canoes double and single, and 250 pairs of sculls and oars…” – Guide to Christchurch – 1885

The Antigua Boats Sheds are such a great Christchurch icon and they are even more special for two other reasons: They are the only surviving 19th century river boat sheds built for commercial boat hire in New Zealand and secondly, the sheds are still doing just that, 130 years later!

The sheds were built in 1882 by two Lyttelton boat builders, Albert Shaw and J.T. Tidd. The boats that were up for hire were built on site, a tradition that has lasted over 100 years.

In 1896, Samuel Anstey took over the sheds and introduced a photographic service. Thanks to this idea, we have now loads of images of people enjoying boating on the Avon, straw hats, parasols and all. Years later, stacks of glass negatives were found in the roof and transferred into the care of the Canterbury Public Library.

In 1907, fire ripped through the sheds and destroyed the western half of the buildings. The rebuild was quick and the surviving eastern end received a second story. It is believed that the stove used to steam the timber used for boat making was the cause, though not proven officially.

In the 1920’s, a shop was added.

In 1986, the punting side of the business was introduced.
A huge renovation was undertaken as the sheds were near collapse and the floor boards – that weren’t even on piles but built directly onto the banks of the Avon – were rotten. 10 weeks and $154,000 later, the boats sheds we know today were back – not only strengthened in its walls but also in its foundations. I think this work saved the sheds from the same fate of so many of our other heritage buildings.

The sheds survived the quakes beautifully and have not stopped its hiring of boats to the public. A rental bike service and a fine restaurant also call the Antigua Boat Sheds home today.

*image courtesy of Greg O’Beirne*

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