In the first two weeks following the news of the discovery of gold on the West Coast, over two thousand of Christchurch’s young and able working men had left their jobs to hopefully ‘…find a bit of the colour…’ for themselves. Already set up in Cashel Street (very close to another Christchurch icon, The Press who was also in its infancy) the Bank of New Zealand (B.N.Z) held its breath in anticipation for the flood of gold expecting to enrich the city. In truth, Christchurch saw very little gold in those gold fever years.
After setting up its first branch in Auckland in 1861, Christchurch’s first branch opened on 1st March 1862. Just seventeen days later, another branch opened in Lyttelton on London Street and on 4th April, Kaiapoi followed suit. It was in 1866 that the B.N.Z made their historic move to the South East corner of Cathedral Square.
Many of New Zealand’s banking firsts were conducted by the B.N.Z. By 1918, they had welcomed their first female employees. In the 1940’s they operated the first mobile banking service and gave out New Zealand’s first personal loans. In the 1950’s, they opened a new branch aimed more towards their lady customers in Auckland and as the 21st century rolled closer, they brought Visa and Eftpos to New Zealanders. Proudly in 1974, they were one of the main sponsors behind the Christchurch hosted Commonwealth Games! Not bad for a business that was facing certain extinction (due a country wide depression in 1894) if not for a rescue package offered by the New Zealand Government.
The B.N.Z building that we have watched being dismantled since the February 2011 earthquake was opened on the same Cathedral site in 1967. In 2015, four years after the business was forced to other Christchurch locations, it has been confirmed that the B.N.Z bank will not be returning to their Cathedral site. They are however excited to be opening a new chapter of history as part of the rebuilt around the old Triangle Centre site – in a new project named the BNZ Centre.
*Image courtesy of the Canterbury Public Library – http://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/– File Reference Photo CD 6, IMG0071*