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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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The Economic Pattern

There have been few major changes in the economic pattern of Canterbury over the past 50 years. Since 1911 the rural population of Canterbury as a whole has been stationary and all net growth in the provincial district has occurred in the towns and cities. Almost all new manufacturing industries have been located in the Christchurch urban area and, to a lesser degree, in Timaru. With improvements in transport the large centres have grown bigger while most of the small towns and villages have remained stable or declined.

Standards of grassland farming have greatly improved while the relative importance of grain cropping has diminished, although acreages fluctuate with varying returns from fat-lamb farming. Irrigation schemes constructed in the 1930s have given greater security to farming on the shallow gravelly soils of Ashburton County but as yet have had little effect in promoting closer settlement. However, the introduction of subterranean clover and the use of lime and fertiliser have greatly improved the productivity of “dry” farming on some 850,000 acres of stony plains land.

Early shelterbelts of exotic trees planted by farmers and local bodies have matured and provided a valuable timber supply since about 1940, while extensive State forests have been established in areas where farming had failed, as on the porous gravels at Eyrewell and on sour downland soils at Ashley.

The Canterbury high country has not shared in the growing productivity of the plains. Its farm population is probably less than it was in the 1870s and, although the area suffered less from the depredations of rabbits than did Marlborough and Central Otago, sheep flocks have fallen well below the peak numbers attained about 1890. The introduction of deer, chamois, and thar for sporting purposes has hastened deterioration of higher-altitude vegetation. Advances in agricultural knowledge during the 1950s suggest that considerable improvement of pastures on lower slopes is possible and that the growing of fine wool and breeding stock there is not incompatible with the retirement of the higher lands from grazing. Increasingly, the high country has been utilised for its hydro-electric power resources and scenic and recreational attractions. Considerable areas near the Main Divide have been set aside as national parks, forest parks, and watershed protection forests.

The population of the provincial district was 58,775 in 1874, 173,443 in 1911, 307,513 in 1956 and 336,705 in 1961. Canterbury has long been the province with the highest proportion of females to males in the population. This reflects the early economic maturity of the province and the absence of activities calling for predominantly male workers. Since 1911 there has been a small but consistent inwards migration to Canterbury, a trend which has increased slightly since 1945. The bulk of the population growth, however, has been due to natural increase of the local population.

by Murray McCaskill, M.A., PH.D., Reader in Geography, University of Canterbury.

  • Jubilee History of South Canterbury, Andersen, Johannes (1916)
  • The Early Canterbury Runs, Acland, L. G. (1951)
  • A History of Canterbury, Part 1
  • Hight, J. and Straubel, C. R. (Ed.) (1957);Te Waimate, Studholme, E. C. (1954)
  • The Evolution of a City, Morrison, J. P. (1948).