On 26th February 1938, the Summit Road was opened.
Harry Ell will always be remembered as a great lover of the Port Hills. He was born in Christchurch in 1862. He grew up on his parents farm in Halswell. From an early age, he became passionate about Christchurch’s natural heritage and its endangered species. It’s not hard to understand why his first job was at the Canterbury Museum. He took an interest in local politics and became a Christchurch City Councillor. He became known for his energy and his unwaivering approach to all his projects.
Always interested in conservation and recreation, Ell’s greatest achievement was being a huge part of the Scenery Preservation Bill that was passed in government in 1903. In the face of an expanding settlement, Ell wanted Christchurch to keep its scenic beauty – especially the Port Hills.
Ell had visions of walkers and travellers enjoying a network of scenic reserves along the hills connected by a road with rest-houses along the way – right through to Akaroa. With just under 20 rest-houses planned along what would start off as the Summit Road, these would be places where people could stop and rest. Of course, only four of these buildings came to fruition.
When Ell’s political career came to an end in 1918, he poured his heart and soul into his Port Hills project. He faced financial strife as well as the doubts of many. He never let that bother him; he pushed forward, and was almost obsessed some said.
By the 1930’s, the Port Hills section of the Summit Road was complete. A string of reserves were proposed from Godley Heads to Pigeon Bay. The Sign of the Kiwi, The Sign of the Bellbird and The Sign of the Packhorse were built but the Sign of the Takahe was not finished when Harry died in 1934. The place remained unfinished until the Christchurch City Council picked it up and it was finally opened in 1949.
Thanks to Harry, we have the Port Hills that we know and enjoy today.
The attached photo shows Harry Ell addressing the crowd at the ‘turning of the sod’ ceremony on 8th November 1908 for the start of the Summit Road project. A plaque now marks the site, close by to the Sign of the Kiwi.
For a more in depth look at Harry Ell, please check out the following link: http://www.peelingbackhistory.co.nz/harry-ell-1862-1934/
*Image of Summit Road Beginning courtesy of Fairfax Media – http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/