The New Zealand region of Canterbury (Māori: Waitaha) is mainly composed of the Canterbury Plains and the surrounding mountains. Its main city, Christchurch, hosts the main office of the Christchurch City Council, the Canterbury Regional Council – called Environment Canterbury (ECAN) – and the University of Canterbury.
In 1848, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a Briton, and John Robert Godley, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, founded the Canterbury Association to establish an Anglican colony in the South Island. The colony was based upon theories developed by Wakefield while in prison for eloping with a woman not-of-age. Due to ties to the prestigious Oxford University, the Canterbury Association succeeded in raising sufficient funds and recruiting middle-class and upper-class settlers. In April 1850, a preliminary group led by Godley landed at Port Cooper—modern-day Lyttelton Harbour—and established a port, housing and shops in preparation for the main body of settlers. In December 1850, the first wave of 750 settlers arrived at Lyttelton in a fleet of four ships.
Following 1850, the province's economy developed with the introduction of sheep farming. The Canterbury region's tussock plains in particular were suitable for extensive sheep farming. Since they were highly valued by settlers for their meat and wool, there were over half a million sheep in the region by the early 1850s. By the 1860s, this figure had risen to three million. During this period, the architect Benjamin Mountfort designed many civic and ecclesiastical buildings in the Gothic Revival style.
The Canterbury Province was formed in 1853 following the passing of the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 from the part of New Munster Province and covered both the east and west coasts of the South Island. The province was abolished, along with other provinces of New Zealand, when the Abolition of the Provinces Act came into force on 1 Nov 1876.
Like much of the Canterbury-Otago tussock grasslands the Canterbury Plains have been highly modified since human settlement and now support a large agricultural industry. Prior to the arrival of Māori settlers in the 13th century, much of the modern Canterbury region was covered in scrub and beech forests. Forest fires destroyed much of the original forest cover which was succeeded by tussock grassland. By the 19th century, only ten percent of this forest cover remained and the European settlers introduced several new exotic grass, lupin, pine and macrocarpa that gradually supplanted the native vegetation. Much of the native vegetation was isolated to the alpine zones and Banks Peninsula. Recently, the amount of forest on Banks Peninsula has increased from a minimum of about one percent of its original forest cover.
The amount of dairy farming is increasing with a corresponding increase in demand for water. Water use is now becoming a contentious issue in Canterbury. Lowland rivers and streams are generally polluted and some of the aquifers are being overdrawn. The Central Plains Water scheme is a proposal for water storage that has attracted much controversy. The Canterbury Water Management Strategy is one of the many means being used to address the water issue..The Canterbury mudfish (kowaro) is an endangered species that is monitored by the Department of Conservation.