Kōrero: Canterbury region

Whārangi 12. Social institutions

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The Church of England (Anglicanism) was central to the Canterbury Association’s plan for the new settlement. Although Anglicans continued to predominate in Canterbury society, there were many Presbyterians among the Scottish settlers who arrived in the 1850s and 1860s, and Roman Catholics among the Irish. Wesleyans and Baptists were strong in some districts. In Christchurch, Anglo-Catholicism had a following, and there were also some eccentric sects.

The 20th century saw the growth of the Mormon Church, and in urban areas fundamentalist Christian sects and non-Christian religions such as Buddhism and Hare Krishna.

The Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals were among Christchurch’s most notable buildings. Both were severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake. The Catholic cathedral is to be demolished and replaced on the same site; the Anglican cathedral will be restored with substantial taxpayer assistance. Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists also built inner-city churches in the 19th century.

Primary and secondary education

The earliest schools in Canterbury were private or run by churches. The ideal of education for all was realised from 1863, with the establishment of state elementary schools under the provincial government. But primary education was not free to all until the passage of the Education Act 1877, and secondary education remained out of reach for many until 1936.

The oldest educational institution in Canterbury is Christ’s College, an endowed fee-paying boys’ school, founded by the Canterbury Association in 1850. Christchurch Boys’ High School and Christchurch Girls’ High School were founded as public secondary schools later in the 19th century.

There are now many other public high schools in Christchurch and the larger country towns such as Cheviot, Darfield, Rangiora, Akaroa, Leeston and Ashburton. Several private secondary schools and the older state secondary schools in Christchurch attract students from rural areas.

Tertiary education institutions

The only tertiary educational institutions in the region are in or near Christchurch. Canterbury University College (now University of Canterbury) was founded in 1873. With the College of Education it moved from an inner-city site to a new campus in the suburb of Ilam in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2013 the university had 14,872 students.

The Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (which remained in the inner city) grew out of the Christchurch Technical College, founded in 1902. Lincoln University (which began in 1878 as an agricultural college) is less than half an hour’s drive from Christchurch.


Public health was a pressing concern for 19th-century Cantabrians. Epidemics of infectious diseases took a heavy toll. Built on swampy land, Christchurch was particularly unhealthy and smelly. Its artesian water supply was contaminated by cesspits in the 1870s, and it was not until a drainage board was established in 1876 that improvements were made. Christchurch did not have a sewerage system until 1882, and this did not extend widely until 1914.

A hospital opened in Christchurch in 1859, and other facilities and services developed gradually. A district nursing service founded by Sibylla Maude in 1896 was one progressive measure, later adopted nationally, that brought health care to those most in need.

Smog city

Christchurch has always suffered winter air pollution, and it was very bad in the 1970s. On cold nights the hills, clear skies and lack of wind create an inversion layer that traps smoke and fumes over the city. By the 1990s pollution was reduced as industries converted to electricity, and people relied less on open coal fires to heat their homes.


Christchurch has several private and six major public hospitals, with a specialist spinal injuries unit at Burwood Hospital and a mental health service at Hillmorton Hospital (formerly Sunnyside Hospital). There are also public hospitals at Akaroa, Ashburton, Darfield, Ellesmere, Lincoln, Oxford, Rangiora and Waikari.


The Christchurch Press, founded in 1861, is New Zealand’s oldest surviving metropolitan daily, linking town and country. Its older competitor, the Lyttelton (later Christchurch) Times, founded in 1851, was a victim of a celebrated newspaper war and ceased publication in 1935.

The evening Christchurch Star was started in 1868. It combined with the rival Sun in 1935, appearing as the Christchurch Star-Sun until 1958 when it reverted to its former name. Since the early 1990s it has been a free broadsheet, published twice weekly.

Daily newspapers were once supported by a number of Canterbury towns, but the Ashburton Guardian, dating from 1879, is the only survivor. In the early 1900s the Weekly Press was the country’s leading agricultural and racing newspaper.

Māori institutions

Ngāi Tahu life was dominated for 150 years by a long campaign to get the Crown to honour promises it made at the time of land purchases. Partial settlement was achieved in the first half of the 20th century, and the Ngāi Tahu Trust Board was set up. The claim was finally settled in 1997. Ngāi Tahu is now a major force in the Canterbury economy.

The traditional rūnanga (councils) of Ngāi Tahu in the Canterbury region are based at Tuahiwi, Rāpaki, Koukourarata, Ōnuku, Wairewa and Taumutu. From the 1950s, some Māori of North Island tribes began moving to Christchurch. One trade-training hostel developed into the city’s main urban marae, Rehua. Work in freezing works and shearing sheds brought North Island Māori to mid-Canterbury, and in 1970 the old Fairton School became the Hakatere Marae.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

John Wilson, 'Canterbury region - Social institutions', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/canterbury-region/page-12 (accessed 22 July 2024)

He kōrero nā John Wilson, i tāngia i te 14 Sep 2006, reviewed & revised 6 Jul 2015