This page looks at the history of the Council and provides background information on the design and build of the provincial buildings.

Photo of the historic Council chambers

A provincial government

British colonisation of New Zealand occurred as a series of planned settlements. The Canterbury Association, a group with strong connections to the Anglican Church, brought their first group of migrants out in 1850.

There were already five settler communities in other parts of the country but they were very scattered and means of communication and transport were slow. It was decided that each province would be largely self-governing. In effect, six miniature Parliaments were set up to govern a country of fewer than 50,000 settlers.

The Provincial Councils took themselves very seriously, modelling their hierarchies on the British 'Mother of Parliaments' at Westminster.

Three years after establishment, Christchurch was still a straggling village. In 1853, elections were held for the position of Superintendent and later, for the twelve-seat Council.

Only men over the age of 21 who owned property were eligible to vote (it was a good 40 years before New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote). There were no secret ballots and no restrictions on treating the voters, so elections were very festive occasions.


Building a home for the new Council

The Provincial Council first met in temporary accommodation but plans for a permanent building began almost immediately. Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings (1858 to 1865) were designed by Benjamin Mountfort, Canterbury's leading Gothic Revival architect. Although the style of the buildings looks back to Europe, they use local stone and timbers. They sit beside the meandering Avon River, telling the story of Christchurch's early European settlement.

On the 6th of January 1858, the foundation stone was laid for the Provincial Council Buildings. The day was declared a public holiday with a procession through town and a nine-gun salute.

The buildings were first used by the Council in September 1859.


Historical significance

Because of the buildings' great architectural and historical significance, the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings have been given Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga's highest classification. They are also identified as a significant heritage place for listing and protection through Christchurch City Council's District Plan.


Interpretation centre

Formerly there was an Interpretation Centre within the buildings. The buildings are currently closed as they suffered significant damage in the Canterbury earthquakes.


Further information

There is more information (external link) about the history of these buildings on the Christchurch City Libraries website.