On 21st November 1865, the construction of the Canterbury Provincial Chambers (which had been started in 1858) was completed.
When the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 was established, New Zealand was split up into six provinces. Each province was its own sub-government and these were built around the six original settlements. The Canterbury Province sat between the Hurunui and Waitaki Rivers and stretched right over to the West Coast.
At the head was a Superintendent and below him, councilors. The first meeting of the Canterbury Provincial Council took place in a potato surrounded shanty on Chester Street on 29th September 1853. The following was later written about the place:
“Oh! Don’t you remember the Chamber, my boy
Our first Parliamentary shop?
With the skylights above and the four bare walls
And the rain pouring in from the top”
Architect Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort was commissioned to design a more permanent and grander home for Canterbury politics. He began with a two story timber structure which included a records room, a library and an outside courtyard. His ideas were accepted in October 1857.
The foundation stone was laid by Superintendent William Sefton Moorhouse on 6th January, 1858. The Provincial Council held their last non-chamber meeting in the Christchurch Town Hall (situated on High Street – known then as “Sumner Road”) before their move into the incomplete chambers in September 1859 – under the next Superintendent, Samuel Bealey. By that early stage, further extensions were already in the pipeline.
In March 1864, plans for the Stone Chamber and the Bellamy were drawn up. It had been the plan all along that stonework would eventually replace all the timber work. But only some of the wooden flooring was replaced, including the impressive 200 foot long main corridor.
With the abolishment of Provincial Government in 1876 and the chambers suddenly empty, no further construction work was deemed necessary. What was left is now a fine example of wood and masonry work showcasing what great confidence and pride our founding fathers had in our beautiful region of Canterbury and its future.
*Image courtesy of Cantage – Canterbury Heritage – http://cantage.wordpress.com