Back to Beautiful Burkes Pass for this week’s column, no doubt the wintery weather is starting to make its presence felt through the Mackenzie country.
I’ve mentioned before that Burkes Pass was originally known as Cabbage Tree Creek, then Clulee before the final name of Burkes Pass was settled upon. The first main building to appear was the local hotel, built in 1866, and the town grew from there.
For more than half a century Burkes Pass became the social, business and sporting centre for the Mackenzie Country pioneers and its heyday was between 1890 and 1910. The resident population during those years was around 143 and the town could boast of having a three teacher school.
The school house was built in 1878 by George Filmer, a Timaru builder. Pit-sawn timber from Kakahu was carted to the site by bullock teams and the building was constructed of this wood as well as iron all on concrete foundations. There were two class rooms, with accommodation for seventy children. It opened in 1879 with a roll of 20 pupils.
The school had grounds of five acres some of which were planted in trees many of which are still there today.
The continued growth of Burkes Pass slowed with the decision to stop the railway at Fairlie in 1884 and in 1891 the Mount Cook Rd Board relocated to Fairlie as well. A population drift occurred in the early 1900s and the school closed for a time. It did reopen in 1920 but eventually closed for good in 1943.
The employment of this simple colonial building did not end there and it continued to be used as the Burkes Pass hall. It was at the centre of social events and major festivities including dances, bowls, card, CWI meetings, gun club, tug of war teams and the Christmas party to which Father Christmas was known to arrive on a dray, tractor or horse.
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