The history of the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association is strongly linked to the history of the annual A&P Show, which has grown over the years to become the largest A&P Show in New Zealand. Established in 1863, it is an association under the Agricultural and Pastoral Societies Act 1908.
Following the establishment of official European settlement by the Canterbury Association in 1850 the province set about establishing itself on a rural economy and thus from its earliest European inception an interest in annually displaying the fruits of the horticultural and agricultural abilities of the area. Shows were an important part of the rural culture of England and the tradition quickly became a part of early settlement.
The earliest record of any such ‘show’ is 16 December 1852 in Hagley Park. In May 1853 an essentially horticultural display was held at the White Hart Hotel and a show of livestock held in the Market Place (Victoria Square) . In May 1854 a similar show including wool and grain samples was held at the Golden Fleece Hotel. Similar shows continued on through the 1850s with the formation of the Canterbury Farmers’ Club in 1858 .
The first ‘recognised’ agricultural show in Canterbury was held by the fledgling Canterbury Pastoral Association on 14 September 1859 at B. Moorhouse’s station at Shepherd’s Bush, on the north bank of the Rangitata River. At the conclusion of this show, the Canterbury Pastoral Association was officially formed – subscriptions were set at one guinea a year .
The next year a more successful show was held at Turton’s Accommodation House in Ashburton . This was a quite grand affair with a formal dinner and ball in George Hall’s Woolshed – the evening not culminating until 5am .
As a result of the shows during the 1850s, a strong move to form an Agricultural and Pastoral Association was promulgated by businessmen such as Robert Wilkin, George Gould and J T Ford who were “…instrumental in merging the interests of run holders and farmers.” So it was in 1862 that the Canterbury Pastoral Association met to inaugurate a show on or near Christchurch and form an organisation with wider aims .
In 1862 the show was held for the first time in Christchurch, in Gresson’s paddock which was fenced with gorse and located in Armagh Street just north of Latimer Square.
Following the success of this venture, the A&P Association was formally established with Wilkin as Chair and William Moorhouse, the then Superintendent of the Province as Patron. This group resolved to purchase a permanent site in Christchurch or its suburban area. The site of the first showgrounds was purchased in 1863 – a fourteen-acre site in Sydenham – which later became Sydenham Park in 1894. A show was held there on 22 October 1863 and though affected by inclement weather some 1,500 people attended. It is understood that it is from this date that the Canterbury A&P Association measure their history.
By 1872 the site was well developed and some 8,000 attended the show that year – by 1878 the Association had paid off its mortgage and the show continued to increase in size and attendance with the Association making a profit of £500. On the showgrounds, the Association had erected an office building, new pens, a manufacturers and dairy display building and fenced the site.
When the Sydenham site became too small, the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association bought a 29-acre block at Addington from a Mr. Twigger, who donated to the Association another 5 acres . While not all Association members were in favour of the move the main advantage of the new site was its proximity to the main South railway lines.
By the time the first show at the Addington site opened the site had been well subdivided into pens, paddocks and show areas and fenced and at least three permanent buildings built – the Industrial Building, the Secretary’s Building and the Treasurer’s Building. The move to Addington by the A&P Association was quickly justified as entries and attendance increased and entries came from the North Island and the lower part of the South Island. By 1899 the grounds had been added to by way of a lease of land.
Sideshows, industrial exhibitions and machinery, and car displays became part of the show increasing the more general public interest.
By 1918 the Friday of Show Week had become People’s Day at the Show. In the 1950’s when the official provincial holiday for the anniversary day of the province was shifted from 16 December (the date of the arrival of the first of the First Four Ships), to the Friday of Show Week, a change that meant an official holiday for the banks and businesses, large numbers of people from both town and country attended the show.
The depression of the 1930s and WWII had its effect on the Canterbury A&P Association and its Show but the show returned with vigour and though entries were poor the patronage of the general public set a new record attendance .
In 1947 the mortgage on the Addington site was paid off and a motor camp developed on part of the site which provided a valuable source of income. In 1953 three serious fires occurred at the grounds and a decision was made to build new offices near the main entrance. Another serious fire destroyed the No.1 Grandstand in 1975. Through all the trails of years the two principal 1887 buildings – the Industrial Building and the Treasurer’s Building remained intact on the site – the Treasurer’s Building remaining in near original condition.
In 1962 the Canterbury A&P Association celebrated its centennial and continued at the Addington Showgrounds until 1996 when the A&P Association acquired a 250-acre block of land at Wigram from the Christchurch City Council. The old facilities at Addington had become cramped and dusty and no longer able to cope with the large number of entries and crowds of visitors and the move to Canterbury Agricultural Park in Curletts Road was made in 1997. The first show at the new site held that year included a range of events, from dog trials to axe men, and exhibits such as ostrich and llama, wines and cheeses, agricultural machinery and services, as well as the more traditional livestock competitions . A new era had begun and with it continued a strong link with the past with the relocation of the 1887 Treasurer’s Building to the new site.
In 2012 we celebrated 150 years by creating special commemorative merchandise and hosting an A&P show that celebrated our history and future. In 2018, the Association decided to rebrand the Show as the New Zealand Agricultural Show, a title worthy of cementing the Show’s future and potential for growth.
For more information on the history of A&P Shows in New Zealand visit Te Ara The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.