Hagley Park's legal status has itself been the cause of some controversy over the years and it has added fuel to the flames of other disputes. Various agencies over the years have sought to clarify the exact legal position of the park, generally with the aim of facilitating new construction or development.
It made sense in the early days when the Park was a wilderness to use the land for depasturing cattle and sheep; today the notion of running sheep or cattle in the Park is slightly surreal.
Agitation for a public hospital for the town in the 1850s turned into agitation against the proposed site, when it was revealed that a corner paddock between Riccarton Avenue and the river had been chosen.
While the 1860s proposal to route the Northern Railway from Addington Station along the inside boundary of the Park to cross the Avon near Fendaltown Bridge was vociferously opposed and defeated ( John Hall called the proposal 'barbarism'), a proposal to lay a temporary railway line through the middle of Hagley Park to facilitate the New Zealand Exhibition of 1906 was approved by the Domains Board.
From its earliest days the Park has been used for recreational purposes, and the celebrations marking the centenary of the province in 1950/51 were another significant event in the Park's history, when once again a portion of the Park was set aside for an amusement park.
For many years local Maori believed that some form of legal reserve had been allocated to them in Hagley Park. The issue arose in the 1950s, following the publication W A Taylor's book 'Lore and History of the South Island Maoris' in which he described early efforts to have a Maori hostel and reserve established in the Park.
Of all the contentious issues raised over the years, none has been more controversial than those involving proposals to put roadways through the Park.
Hagley Park, named after the country seat of Lord Lyttelton, Chairman of the Canterbury Association, was set aside as a reserve forming the western boundary of Christchurch before the town was even inhabited. 2005 marks the sesquicentennial of the passing of the Canterbury Association's Reserves Ordinance of October 1855, which vested Hagley Park and the Government Domain it surrounded (the area in the loop of the Avon now containing the Museum, Botanic Gardens and Christ's College) in the Superintendent of the Province of Canterbury. It decreed that the Park shall be reserved forever as a public park and shall be open for recreation and enjoyment of the public.
While its status has been sometimes ambiguous under the law, its place in the hearts of the citizens of Christchurch has usually been very clear - we have always held firm views on what was or was not a suitable use for this space - and its history has been punctuated by controversies over proposed uses of the land.
This exhibition of archival documents, mounted in association with the Urban Design and Heritage section of Christchurch City Council, looks at some of those proposals - welcome and otherwise - that have affected the Park over the last 150 years. To simplify the exhibition, and to bring some semblance of order to it, we have organised the items in the display along the themes illustrated on the left by thumbnails. Please click a thumbnail image to enter the exhibition proper.