Maori oral history suggests that people first inhabited the Canterbury area about a thousand years ago. These first inhabitants were moa-hunting tribes and these were followed by the Waitaha who are thought to have migrated from the east coast of the North Island in the 16th century. This migration was joined by the Ngati Mamoe and Ngai Tahu and continued until about 1830.
The first European landed in Canterbury in 1815, 45 years after Captain James Cook sighted what he named "Banks Island", later found to be a peninsula.
In 1840 the first Europeans settled on the plains and whaling ships were operating out of Lyttelton by 1850.
During 1850-1851 the first organized groups of English settlers, the founders of Christchurch, arrived on the 'first four ships' into Lyttelton Harbour.
Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter on July 31, 1856, making it officially the oldest established city in New Zealand.
In 1893 New Zealand women achieved a first in the world when they won the right to vote. This significant event was honored in 1993 when the Kate Sheppard memorial, a commemoration to Women's Suffrage was unveiled on 19th September 1993.
Canterbury's economy was built on primary products and Canterbury has long been recognised as living "off the sheep's back". Although its economic beginnings were in refrigerated sheep and dairy meats and in other dairy products, Canterbury now has a diversified regional economy with growth across a range of "new economy" sectors.