The Bowker Gate was opened in 1940 when the former Scenic Reserve was renamed Centennial Park to commemorate the centennial of New Zealand. It provides a grand entranceway and a reminder of a citizen’s generous gift of land to the city.
George Bowker (1877-1939) was a successful businessman in Timaru, acting as both a share broker and land agent. He was chairman of the Timaru Horticultural Society in the early 1930’s when the Timaru Borough Council was negotiating to buy the old Harbour Board quarry for a scenic reserve. To assist the council, he donated 16 acres of land for an access way into the park. This comprised a section bordering Otipua Road near Church Street and an area of adjacent land in the valley below. In his letter to the council at the time, George expressed his hope that the entrance would give “a commanding view of the valley, the downs and the hills in the background”. His only stipulation was that the land be held in perpetuity with no buildings erected on the site.
George was the son of Charles Bowker (1842-1915) who arrived in Timaru in 1867. Charles started out as a draper, moving on to set up financial and commercial businesses in the town. The family lived in a grand house known as ‘The Pines’ in College Road and Bowker senior supported early Timaru with the donation of a band rotunda for Alexandra Square. An elm tree dedicated to George Bowker can be seen near the gateway.
The zig zag road from the Bowker Gateway was made one-way in 2013 to assist with traffic flow through the park.