On 24th May 1907, a newly erected flagpole in Victoria Square was used for Christchurch’s first ‘Empire Day’ (pictured). To the sound of buglers playing the ‘Royal Salute’, the Union Jack was hoisted up above the thousands that had gathered below.
In 1909, this flagpole was transformed into a flagstaff by the addition of a crosspiece. An even larger flagstaff took the place of this in 1911, being situated closer to Oxford Terrace so not to overcrowd the Victoria Statue. Here it remained until the Victoria Square revamp in the 1980’s where it was relocated.
Empire day had been celebrated in New Zealand as early as 1903, the 24th May being set aside to celebrate the late Queen Victoria’s birthday and ‘rejoice in the consolidation of our great Empire’. This did not stop the birthday celebrations of her son, King Edward VII in November but the two days did merge in 1910 with her Grandson, King George V (our current Queen’s grandfather) having his birthday in June and it being considered ‘close enough’. Schools and some offices would close but all shops remained open. In 1958, Empire Day became known as ‘Commonwealth Day’, now celebrated in New Zealand under the term of the ‘Queen’s Birthday’ – the first Monday in June.
*Image courtesy of the Canterbury Public Library – http://christchurchcitylibraries.com – File Reference CCL Photo CD 14 IMG0097*