What’s a celebration without a float or two? The construction and use of parade floats dates back to the Middle Ages, and the tradition has endured and become more extravagant over time.
Ashburton is no stranger to floats and parades, as evidenced by some of the photos in our collection. In times of celebration, this district has produced some very unique and beautiful parade pieces, which have displayed fine attention to detail and true devotion. However, since it takes such great effort to prepare a float for a parade, they are only really present in large celebrations.
Victory & Peace
Victory Day 1919 was a fantastic affair across the British Empire. Ashburton rose to the challenge of matching international excitement by hosting a procession, and according to the Guardian it was “the largest and most representative ever lined up in Ashburton.” People came early to secure the best spots along East Street. The parade included military marches and a Red Cross showcase.
One of the most striking displays of the procession was that of G Hefford and Co. A decent sized float, it depicted the themes of victory and post-war peace. It featured a half globe, upon which a winged Victory stood, with a golden trumpet, symbolising the coming of peace. Six other figures stood around Victory representing the Allies. This grand and clever float was followed by some more trade displays, and following the procession, a vigil was held that evening.
The G Hefford and Co. float is perhaps one of the most important parade displays to have passed down East Street in Ashburton’s history. While it was a float and thus was only temporary, we still have photographs to look over and remind us that important occasions such as Victory Day can give rise to enough enthusiasm that people will devote time and care to create such marvels.
Ashburton has not just been eager to partake in international festivities, and many causes for parade have been much closer to home. Ashburton celebrated two big birthdays in the late seventies – the centennial of the County Council in 1976, and the centennial of the Borough Council in 1978. The former gave us the iconic Ashburton clock tower, and the latter also bestowed some architecture upon the town – but this of the moving kind. The Borough Council created a float of the old and new Borough Council buildings, with arrows signifying the shift from the old building to the new. While lacking the symbolism and meaning of the Victory and Peace float, the Council float can be considered a masterpiece for its attention to detail.
The old civic chambers and the current building, which opened in 1974, were well represented by this float, which was just one of 112 floats at the procession. The brickwork of the old civic chambers is precisely rendered, with no cut corners, and the windows of both buildings are highly accurate.
Other notable floats
The earlier County Council centennial parade of 1976 also had some notable floats and displays, including one amusing allusion to the colonial past. A bullock waggon was pulled by a tractor cleverly disguised as a cow, and both the passengers and the tractor driver wore settlers’ clothes. At one stage in Ashburton’s past, it seems that battleships were a popular float theme, which were not quite built to life-size scale but close enough by float standards.
At the 1950 Canterbury centennial parade in Christchurch, Ashburton chose to represent itself as a land of plenty with a float bearing countless flowers and a large cornucopia. On the float sat some women clad in beautiful dresses and floral crowns, which further drove the message home that Ashburton was a land of prosperity.
Like many other crafts, float making is an art form comprised of many others, such as sculpture, woodworking, painting, flower arranging, and so on. Floats are a large investment in terms of both time and money, and it is a craft that is ever evolving alongside technology.
By Connor Lysaght
1) Victory & Peace float by GH Hefford & Co., from the Victory Day parade of 1919.
2) Ashburton Borough Council float.
3) A parade float of a battleship with costumed sailors, named the H.M.S. Advance.
4) The Ashburton float in the 1950 Canterbury centennial parade, Christchurch.
5) A mock bullock waggon which was part of the 1976 County Council centennial parade.