Canterbury Museum

Canterbury Museum is a Benjamin Mountfort designed building. This is a brief history and guide to information and resources about the Museum.

Research facilities and research material availability are restricted due to the building's redevelopment. For more information contact Canterbury Museum.

Although parts of the Museum itself were closed for building assessment and repairs in 2012-2013, it fully reopened on 25 April 2013.



The first collections owned by the Canterbury Museum were those made by Sir Julius von Haast prior to and during his explorations as Provincial Geologist of Canterbury. They were housed in the Provincial Council Buildings and officially opened for public view in December 1867. Funding for the Museum came from a public appeal and a grant from the Provincial Government. Plans for the building adjacent to the Botanic Gardens were accepted and a tender notice placed in The Press in February 1869.

Designed by Benjamin Mountfort and opened in 1870, the original Museum was a single room 21.3 metres long by 10.6 metres across, containing a gallery supported by kauri columns. The exterior was of grey basalt from the Halswell Quarry, with a stone port to the east.

Additions and alterations included a two-storey wing in the Victorian Gothic style to the south in 1872, and in 1876 a substantial addition was completed facing present-day Rolleston Avenue. In 1882 an internal courtyard was roofed in. No further additions were made until 1958 when the Rolleston Avenue frontage was extended and a new wing adjacent to Christ’s College completed. An extension was opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in 1977, and subsequently named the Roger Duff Wing in honour of a former Director. It houses the Hall of Antarctic Discovery.

Recent alterations

Between 1987 and 1995 the nineteenth century wings, which have a Category A listing, were progressively strengthened and renovated to meet earthquake standards. A four-storey block containing an Exhibitions Court for short-term and travelling exhibitions was opened in 1995 to commemorate the Museum’s 125th Anniversary.

A Revitalisation Project was under discussion in the early 2000s, but was sent back to the drawing board by a 2006 decision by the Environment Court. A new plan to fit base isolators to the historic building was announced in 2013.

Museum collections and resources

The Museum provides internationally-recognised displays on Antarctica, Costume, New Zealand birds, the Māori and European occupation of Canterbury, Asian Decorative Arts, Geology and Natural Sciences (relating particularly to Canterbury). Material not on long-term display is available for research and forms part of frequent temporary exhibitions. The museum also provides research access to material useful for family history research as well as documentary and pictorial archives, previously this was provided via a Documentary Research Centre which closed as a result of the February 2011 earthquakes.

The Museum today

Canterbury Museum
Canterbury Museum, 2012 Flickr File reference: CCL-2012-03-17-IMG_0358

The earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 have resulted in some damage. However the existing structural strengthening of the museum buildings has meant this has been relatively minor.

The Museum developed and runs the Quake City earthquake attraction which opened in February 2013.

In September 2015 it was announced that the Ravenscar Trust would fund a $13 million annex to house the art collection of Jim and Dr Susan Wakefield. The Ravenscar House Museum will be located on Rolleston Ave. Construction began in 2019 and the completed building opened to the public on 8 November 2021.

In 2022 a major redevelopment of the building began to address structural, seismic and space issues. The new design for the building will feature a high ceilinged atrium and the return of the blue whale skeleton which was removed from display in 1994.

The entire museum collection will be moved offsite to allow for construction work. The museum will be closed from 3 to 28 January 2023 after which point an exhibition, SHIFT: Urban Art Takeover, will open utilising the empty space with the 5-year redevelopment project scheduled to begin in April 2023.

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Related pages

Online resources

The Canterbury Museum and Library Ordinance 1870 [71kb PDF]
The Ordinances of the Canterbury Provincial Council Session XXXIV 1870 (September to November 1870).
Heritage New Zealand Register
Heritage New Zealand Register entry for Canterbury Museum.
Museum Piece
A discussion of the 2006 Environment Court decision regarding the Canterbury Museum Revitalisation Project.
Canterbury Museum, Christchurch
Brief history from Wikipedia and links to related websites.
Base isolation plans
Article from Stuff, 9 March 2013.
October 2018 Start of Work Planned for Ravenscar House
Article from Scoop, 30 May 2018


This was originally derived from the Christchurch City Council handbook of 1998.

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