Canterbury earthquake anniversary series: Sue Sutherland on Kaiapoi Museum

By Sue Sutherland, an independent consultant assisting with the recovery of Kaiapoi Museum.

Moving back to Christchurch from Wellington in July 2011 raised a few eyebrows amongst friends and colleagues.  Why, when so many people were leaving, were we going in the opposite direction – returning to my home city of Christchurch?   Apart from the personal reasons of family and friends, it was a chance to help with the rebuild and to be part of the energy and hard work needed for the recovery.

So I was delighted to be asked by Craig Sargison of the Waimakariri District Council if I could assist with the recovery of the Kaiapoi Museum, whose building had been demolished following the September 2010 earthquake.  Kaiapoi has suffered considerable damage to commercial and residential properties with nearly 1000 homes being designated as being in the “red zone”.  This means the land is not considered suitable for housing.  The town will lose the majority of its historical buildings, with the old Court House which housed the Museum being one of the first to be demolished.

Kaiapoi Museum being demolished – Saturday 11 September, 9.30am

In addition to the Museum, the Kaiapoi Library and Service centre building had also been seriously damaged. Parts of the building have moved in different directions as a result of lateral spread of the land.  This building was scheduled for repair and initially was not part of the plan to re-house the Museum.

The Kaiapoi Museum has had an interesting history.  Like many smaller provincial museums it is run by the local Kaiapoi Historical Society which held its first meeting in 1960. The aims of the society were to collect and preserve early records. Over the years the Museum has gathered together objects, costumes, archives, photographs, newspapers, microfiche and microfilm.  The collection now numbers somewhere between 7000- 8000 items.   Initially housed in the old Fire Station, the Museum moved to the Court House in 1982 where it remained until 2010.   The collection is currently in storage.

Over the 50 years of its life dedicated volunteers have given time, ideas and energy to making sure the history of Kaiapoi is kept for future generations.  Many of the volunteers have themselves been personally affected by the earthquake, being required to move out of their homes which are in the red zone.  One of the pleasures of this assignment is working with the building sub-committee of the Kaiapoi Historical Society to understand their aspirations and the challenges to be faced in getting the Museum operational again.

It has meant getting to know them as people, finding out how the Museum operates, and working with them to create a vision for the future of the Museum.  A museum is more than just a collection of objects and displays.  The Museum must tell a story – a story that links the visitor with the people and situations of the past.  Today’s events become tomorrow’s history.  One of the challenges for the Museum is gathering the record of the earthquake in their town in order to tell the unique Kaiapoi story of these tumultuous and life changing events.

Site of the Kaiapoi Museum. Copyright BeckerFraserPhotos.

So where are we up to?   Over several months we have looked at different options for re-housing the museum and library:  repairing an old building for the museum and repairing the library; a new build for the library and a new build for the Museum; or a new purpose built facility which would accommodate them both, the Council’s Service Centre and an art space for Kaiapoi.

I am really pleased to say that the Waimakariri District Council has chosen the last option and planning is underway to build a new 1700 square metre facility on the site of the former library and service centre.  The community will have an opportunity to provide feedback through the annual plan process before a final decision is made.  This option will maximise access to all of the activities for visitors and ensure the people of Kaiapoi and the whole district get value for the money to be spent.

There are still challenges ahead – not the least of which is a thorough review of the collection of the Museum to determine what items will form part of the new exhibitions and displays.  There is additional funding to be sought to get expert assistance with the curation of the exhibitions which will tell the story of Kaiapoi.  However a start has been made and it will be great over the coming year to see the new facility become a reality.

The people of Kaiapoi, like many in other parts of Canterbury have had a difficult 18 months.  I am confident that this new museum, library, service centre and art space will provide a real boost to the town and become a much visited place by locals and visitors alike.

Image credits:

1: Kaiapoi Museum being demolished – Saturday 11 September, 9.30am.  Photo courtesy of Kaiapoi Museum.

2: Site of the Kaiapoi Museum.  Copyright BeckerFraserPhotos.

Sue Sutherland is an independent consultant supporting libraries, local government and public and private sector organisations to achieve their goals.  Experienced both in big operational roles and in the development of strategy and policy, Sue offers a wealth of knowledge and skill to her clients.  She is passionate about the difference that libraries and museums can make in people’s lives and values the importance of story in helping make sense of our world.

Reread Judith Taylor’s post about Kaiapoi Museum in the aftermath of the September 2010 earthquake.