The Canterbury Club was established in 1872 by professionals and businessmen who
found their backgrounds and interests to be different from those of the largely rural
gentrified membership of the established Christchurch Club founded in 1856 and
situated in Latimer Square.An initial meeting chaired by William Montgomery, timber merchant and education administrator, was attended by twenty men from the professional and business sectors of the Christchurch community. Following this meeting, prospective members were invited to apply for shares in the venture.
The newly formed club had 151 original members with an average age of 38 years. Membership was dominated by men of a mercantile character - importers, bankers, lawyers and accountants.
Tenders were called for a property on which to build a clubhouse. A number of sites were offered and shareholders balloted to decide which tender they would accept. In due course, the tender of Dr. J.S. Turnbull for a quarter acre property on the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Worcester Street was accepted by the Canterbury Club in 1872.
Prominent Christchurch architect W.B. Armson, himself a club member, was commissioned to design a club building at the first meeting of the directors of the Canterbury Club in 1872. However, ill health and a high workload later compelled Armson to withdraw. Frederick Strouts was subsequently appointed to succeed Armson in 1873. Strouts was responsible for the design of the greater part of the building in which the club still resides.
The original club building was constructed in 1873 by Daniel Reese for £3,363. A news reporter of the day stated that the Canterbury Club's "commodious and handsome building on the east side of the Avon...now in course of erection...will certainly be a great ornament to that locality." (Press 20.12.1873) Initially the club consisted of the large two-storey section at the corner of Worcester Street and Cambridge Terrace, and a part of the single storey section to the south. Strouts apparently made provision in his plans for the extension of the first floor over this southern section if additional accommodation was required, but this was never carried out.
The principal entrance to the two-storey wooden building faces the Avon River and would have been a grand site when approached over the Worcester Street bridge from Cathedral Square. The original building consisted of a large dining room, strangers' room, smoking room and spacious billiard room which accommodated two billiard tables. Domestic offices were also arranged on the ground floor "all these very commodious and fitted up with every modern appliance for convenience" (Press 29.05.1873). A suite of sleeping apartments, a bathroom, luggage room and reading room were located on the second floor.
William Montgomery had been officially elected the first Chairman of the Canterbury Club on August 17, 1872. Montgomery presided at the club's official opening and inaugural dinner held on October 23, 1874. A silver service dinner would likely have been served at tables set with the newly specified white dinnerware tamped with the 'Canterbury Club' monogram. New blankets and bed linen had been purchased from J. Ballantyne and Company and the club was comfortably furnished in a manner befitting its class of members. Lunch was served daily to members at 1pm - in 1876 an average of thirty members attended lunch daily. By 1879 the Club had 179 members and had gained a reputation for giving the best dinners in the city. A variety of fare was offered on the menu including game such as pheasant and wild pigeon during the shooting season.
In 1907-08 Armson, Collins & Harman made substantial additions to the club. These were constructed by contractor W. Jack at a cost of £1000. The single storey wing fronting Cambridge Terrace was extended to the south in the same style, and finished with a brick firewall. A narrower and slightly lower two-storey addition was made to the west of the service unit, and a single storey section to the south. A squash court was put down at the western boundary of the property in the early 1930s. No further major alterations were then made until 1965-6, when Warren and Mahoney designed a concrete block addition to the north front of the service wing link section.
The Canterbury Club was primarily a male domain; a venue where men could hold business meetings but perhaps more importantly, smoke, drink, dine and play billiards together. Women were not allowed entry to the club until 1894 when members were allowed to invite women guests to the dining room for afternoon tea on the first Tuesday of every month. Aside from this monthly meeting, women were only allowed entry to the club on special occasions. Club life was very private and a haven for city members and for country members visiting Christchurch for business or pleasure. Over the years, the Club has had many prominent men among its membership and has extended its hospitality to visiting ship's captains, politicians and dignitaries.
Outside the Canterbury Club an original hitching post and gas lamp are poignant reminders of the early days of Christchurch when the club was formed. The gas lamp has been relocated from its original Worcester Street/Cambridge Terrace corner to sit outside the principal entrance and still operates on gas.
While internal alterations have been made regularly over the last thirty years to adapt the building to the changing character of the institution it remains in relatively original condition.. While the club still adheres to many of its original protocols it has plans to move the Canterbury Club in new directions.
In 2004 a merger between the Canterbury Club and its old rival the Christchurch Club was mooted however, the Canterbury Club elected to maintain its autonomy. The Club has recently completed developing its site and undertaking restoration, conservation and maintenance of the building - in short to ensure the Club remains for the next 132 years.