By Mick Jensen
A new historic places identity scheme, the first of its kind in New Zealand, has been launched in Ashburton.
Developed by Historic Places Mid Canterbury, the blue plaque heritage concept aims to identify, promote and celebrate heritage structures in the district.
The first structure to receive the blue plaque award at last week’s launch was the 100-year-old Ashburton pedestrian railway bridge.
Heritage and history enthusiasts attended a brief unveiling ceremony of the plaque on the east side of the bridge, before returning to the Heritage Centre to hear more about the scheme and also the history of the bridge.
The special guest at the event was architecture and art historian Dr Anna Crighton, who is the chair of Christchurch Heritage Trust and the founder of Historic Places Aotearoa.
Dr Crighton said Historic Places Mid Canterbury should be given a “big tick” for the heritage work it did in the district.
The volunteer group “punched well above its weight” to raise awareness of local history and heritage and the newly introduced historic plaque identity scheme was an impressive first in New Zealand.
History was only as good as what you could see and looking at photos of old buildings was not the same as seeing them in real life, said Dr Crighton.
The blue plaque scheme was developed around a year ago and driven by Historic Places Mid Canterbury deputy chair Nigel Gilkison.
Mr Gilkison said the plaques aimed to bring greater prominence to and appreciation of heritage structures in Mid Canterbury.
The chosen sites would help tell the story of how the district had evolved and would help inform and educate locals of their history.
Speaking about the 100 year rail bridge, Mr Gilkison said it was constructed of old sleepers and railway lines and was an “ingenious example of recycling materials”.
The impressive commemorative plinth at the rail bridge had been designed and installed for free by McIntosh Construction and Ashburton council had generously funded the metal blue plaque from the community grants fund.
The railway bridge had provided access to Ashburton’s former railway station and featured a bowstring truss with an impressive span of 25.6m, said Mr Gilkison.