Vancouver and Christchurch: possible sister cities

Photo by Ric Moore

The site of Christchurch Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand.


A recent one month visit to New Zealand gave me the feeling that I was still in British Columbia. It made me think, perhaps we should add another city to Vancouver’s list of sister cities – Christchurch.

Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, has many similarities to Vancouver. Although its population is approximately half of Vancouver’s, the city emphasizes its tourist attractions, including biking, trekking and skiing on mountains such as Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. Its rugged coastline, with beautiful beaches, has whale watching tours, sailing and kayaking. The surrounding farmlands, with sheep and dairy herds, are intermingled with wineries producing world class wine.

Another similarity to Vancouver is the potential for earthquakes. John Light, my brother-in-law who lives in Auckland on the North Island, stated that New Zealand has major fault lines running the full length of the two islands. Light remarked that New Zealanders always thought that Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city located at the bottom of the North Island, was the prime location to have a major earthquake, while Christchurch was never considered to be in danger.

The radar on Vancouver’s location for a major earthquake is similar to the distance that Christchurch is located from New Zealand’s fault lines. The Strait of Juan de Fuca has two tectonic plates that rub against each other. It is located south of Vancouver Island and considered one of the most vulnerable in the country.

On September 4, 2010, an earthquake measuring 7.1 in magnitude occurred near Christchurch at a depth of 10 kilometres, and despite widespread damage, there were no fatalities. A large aftershock of magnitude 6.3 occurred on February 22, 2011.

Although lower on the magnitude scale than the previous earthquake, the intensity and violence of the ground shaking was measured to be the strongest ever recorded globally in an urban area. The quake struck on a busy weekday afternoon and resulted in the deaths of 184 people. Many buildings and landmarks were severely damaged, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. Light mentioned that over 10,000 aftershocks have occurred since the first earthquake.

I stayed in Christchurch for two days at the home of Light’s daughter, Katrina, and at 4:30 in the morning I was woken by one of those aftershocks — I thought someone was bouncing on my bed.

Peering through the fences and barriers within the city centre, now categorized as the “Red Zone,” one could not help but feel sadness when looking at the demolished buildings and empty lots where businesses once employed and served the citizens. Even if buildings were classified as safe, a number of businesses moved or were put out of business as people stayed away from the city centre.

The New Zealand Herald newspaper reported on a memorial that was held one year after the Feb. 22nd earthquake: “A number of residents … wouldn’t attend the official memorial. It was still too raw, they said. They were worried about being in big crowds in case the worst happened. They wanted to remember friends and loved ones in their own way. The roll call of the dead was chilling – it took 13 minutes to read every name.”

Katrina’s home is typical of many homes within Christchurch as it is still liveable, but has been classified as a home that will have to be torn down. The Government will pay home owners the assessed value of the home. When I asked Katrina what most of the owners were going to do, she replied, “Some will move to the outlying suburbs, but a greater number of people will be moving from Christchurch. A number of my friends have moved back to their home country including Australia, the Philippines and North America – they feel safer with their families.”

Upon arriving home from my trip, I immediately set about to replenish my earthquake kit in my home and car. Also, I’ll enquire at City Hall to see if they will give some thought to invite Christchurch to be a sister city.

B.C. Earthquake Information: