Christchurch: City of Light

Did you know that electric vehicles were first introduced to Christchurch by the Christchurch City Council in 1915? Or that by 1919, you could charge your electric vehicle at a garage on Manchester Street designed especially to accommodate up to 45 electric vehicles?

In the twenty-first century we often take electricity for granted. We have become so reliant upon its use in our daily lives that we overlook the challenges faced by earlier generations of electrical suppliers to ensure that we can have the comforts of modern life.

In 2010, Christchurch City Libraries was gifted archival material from Orion New Zealand Limited, the company which distributes electricity to central Canterbury. Using this archival material, the Digital Content team has worked to create Christchurch: City of Light, a digital exhibition in Canterbury Stories.

The exhibition examines how the Municipal Electricity Department, initially formed by the Christchurch City Council as the Electricity Department in 1903, became an integral part of Christchurch life in the twentieth century until it was amalgamated with the Central Canterbury Electric Power Board in 1989 to form Southpower.

Through articles and features such as an interactive timeline, users can explore how the engineers of Edwardian Christchurch took a technology that was still in its infancy and adapted its use to an emerging modern city. From relying upon the generation of electricity by a steam driven plant, to the blackouts of the Second World War, through to the power restrictions of the 1950s, users can gain an appreciation of the challenges our city faced as electricity evolved from being a luxury commodity to an essential part of life.

The exhibition also features links to digitised collections of historical photographs and negatives from the Municipal Electricity Department.

Explore Christchurch: City of Light.

Note: In 1998, Southpower was purchased by TransAlta New Zealand Limited and was rebranded as Orion New Zealand Limited.