Civic memorial to mark 75th anniversary of Ballantynes fire

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Nov 15, 2022 |


A civic memorial will take place in Christchurch on Friday to mark the 75th anniversary of the fire at Ballantynes department store that resulted in the tragic loss of 41 lives.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage of Delivery Chief Executive Glenis Philip-Barbara said “as well as the truly devastating loss for the victims’ families and the store, the fire represented an immense loss to the Christchurch community which continues to be felt to this day”

Rescuing Mr K. Ballantyne from the burning building on Colombo Street, Christchurch

39 staff and two auditors who had been working in the building were killed in the blaze. An estimated 250-300 people were shopping at Ballantynes when the fire began, which had 458 staff.

A civic funeral was held for the victims of the fire on Sunday 23 November 1947.

Coffins stretch into the distance at the funeral for victims of the Ballantynes department store fire, at Ruru lawn cemetery / Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-7171-88

Around 800 family and friends filled Christchurch Cathedral for the service, with more gathered in the Square outside, followed by a graveside service attended by approximately 10,000 people.

A Commission of Inquiry found that while the fire was an accident, the tragedy provided many key learnings, including that a quick response was critical in helping to avoid loss of life.

“While the recommendation from the Commission of Inquiry to set up national fire service was not implemented until 1976, the Ballantynes fire led to significant changes to the way public buildings in New Zealand safeguard staff and customers, and to the administration of the fire brigade.

View, from a distance, of the Ballantyne’s department store fire, Christchurch. Photograph taken at 4pm from the Cathedral tower. Photographer unidentified.

“The resulting Fire Service Act of 1949 set up the Fire Service Council, which coordinated local body and volunteer fire services, directing training, and distributing equipment nationally for the first time.

“It is crucial we continue to remember events like the Ballantynes fire, although they are painful, so that we can learn from history and ensure they are not repeated. The fact that the Ballantynes fire remains our worst loss of life from fire proves the enduring legacy of this tragedy.”

Ballantyne Memorial Rose Garden at Ruru Lawn Cemetery

The Christchurch Transitional Cathedral is holding a public memorial service at 5.30pm on Friday 18 November, 234 Hereford Street, Christchurch.

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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