Victoria Square, that green and peaceful oasis in the center of Christchurch, has a special claim to fame: it is the only city square in the world with a river running through it. It has a rich and varied history, starting in 1850 when, as Christchurch’s Market Place, it was the center of commerce in the fledgling settlement. Before long it was home to little wooden shops, busy hotels and flourishing businesses, and to the city’s law courts. Much later it was the site of a splendid town hall. There have been many changes over the years, by far the most drastic those that followed the major earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. All the buildings on the square’s eastern side, and most of those to the south, were demolished, along with the eye-catching tourist hotel that had occupied its north-west corner from 1988. Until the earthquakes Victoria Square was regarded as the most successful urban space in New Zealand, and even in Australasia, and that admired layout, dating from the 1980s, survives, though it may yet be modified as the city rebuilds. This lively and entertaining book, illustrated with 250 photographs, many never before published, is a fascinating architectural survey of a unique civic space; Geoffrey Rice brings to life many of the stories and events connected with Victoria Square and the colorful personalities who have lived and worked there for over a century and a half.
Geoffrey W. Rice is adjunct professor of history at the University of Canterbury, where he taught for nearly 40 years until his recent retirement. He has written illustrated histories of Christchurch and Lyttelton, a biography of Sir Heaton Rhodes, and two books about crimes and scandals in 19th-century Christchurch. His account of the 1918 influenza pandemic in New Zealand, Black November, was short-listed in the history section of the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.