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Nelson City Council Sesquicentennial Celebrations Begin


Nelson City Council begins its 150th sesquicentennial celebrations at the end of this month, marking a century and a half of service to the community.

Over the course of the next 12 months, we will be sharing stories from Council’s history with our community in a series of weekly snippets, capturing interesting tales, events and photos from the past 150 years. Whether it’s the cost of the first rates (one shilling a year), or the city’s appointment of a rat catcher who once caught an impressive 2000 rats in one day, or the donation of a horse to the Council and people of Nelson, Council’s history is a treasure trove.

We’ll also be hosting a range of activities, displaying some of the treasures and images from our archives, and later in the year, holding a community family teddy bears’ picnic with a competition for the oldest teddy.

The sesquicentennial festivities will end with the release of a book chronicling Council's past from 1974 to 2024. Penned by author Paul Christoffel, the publication will mark the third installment in a series, each book encapsulating 50 years of Council's history.

Dr Christoffel says it wasn’t until he started writing about Council that he realised the true breadth of what it does.

“Being new to Nelson, I found it staggering to understand just how much Nelson City Council is involved with, whether its running festivals, funding a slew of activities, organisations and events, owning the city’s historic houses or operating various entities through trusts. I hope people who read this book will be amazed by just how much Council does for its community – it goes so far beyond what people expect their Council to do.”

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The commemoration activities have been driven by Council’s Sesquicentennial Taskforce, led by Chair Councillor Mel Courtney, and supported by the City of Nelson Civic Trust, to showcase the work and dedication of Council staff throughout the organisation’s history.

Nelson Mayor Nick Smith says Council has played an important role in building the city into the successful and desirable place that it is today.

“There is so much good about Nelson that can be attributed to the wise decisions of previous Councils and the hard work of its staff. We have great parks and reserves including stunning facilities such as Saxton Field. Our infrastructure, for water services for instance, is among the best in the country. We have an amazing network of walkways and cycleways. We have beautiful heritage and arts facilities developed in partnership with the community. Our Council has, over these 150 years, built up assets worth over $2.4 billion today that, with low debt, puts Nelson in a strong financial position to face the future.

“Council has also, over these 150 years, helped build a strong sense of community pride and identity as Nelsonians. Council has been a strong advocate for important values such as caring for each other, protecting the environment, being a safe and tolerant city and being advocates for peace and democracy. Just a small minority of cities in the world have had 150 years of continuous democratic governance.

“This sesquicentennial milestone is an opportunity for us to celebrate 150 years of achievements but also to inspire the current Council and our community for the next steps to make our community even better.”

Nelson City Council was established on 30 March 1874, a transformation of the previous governing body, the Board of Works.

Within its first year, the new Council was beset by financial woes – its coffers constantly drawn upon by the Provincial Government without the knowledge or consent of Councillors, or so alleged the Town Clerk of the time, prompting the City Treasurer to resign. Around the same time, Nelson’s first Mayor, J R Dodson, also resigned. The Nelson townspeople called a vote of no confidence in the Council, prompting further resignations, this time by five Councillors. For a short time, left without a quorum, Council ceased to exist. Thankfully, the local magistrate called an election and the new Council got to work straightening out Council’s finances.

Council Chief Executive Nigel Philpott says Council staff have played a crucial role in Nelson's journey over the past 150 years.

"As we celebrate this significant milestone, it's important for our staff to take a moment to reflect on their contributions. They should take pride in their hard work and dedication, which has helped mould Nelson into the vibrant community it is today."

The sesquicentennial celebrations began with a staff morning tea, and a chance for elected members, former Councillors and invited guests to meet Dr Christoffel and hear about the book’s progress.

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