The Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association (CAPA) is woven into the fabric of the province. Its name is synonymous with the annual A&P Show, which has grown over the years to become the largest of its kind in New Zealand. The Show is an opportunity for town and the rural sector to meet, providing a glimpse into the backbone of New Zealand’s economy.
Established in 1863, it is an association under the Agricultural and Pastoral Societies Act 1908 and membership is open to anyone interested in furthering the progress of agriculture.
Shows were an important part of the rural culture of England and the tradition quickly became a part of early settlement in Canterbury.
The earliest record of any such ‘show’ is 16 December 1852 in Hagley Park. The following year, a largely horticultural display was held together with a show of livestock at the then Market Place, now known as Victoria Square . In 1854, there was a similar show including wool and grain samples, and shows continued throughout the 1850s.
As a result of the shows, businessmen such as Robert Wilkin, George Gould and J T Ford lobbied for an Agricultural and Pastoral Association to merge the interests of run holders and farmers.” Its aim was later widened.  In 1862 the show was held for the first time in Christchurch, in Gresson’s paddock, in Armagh Street just north of Latimer Square.
Following its success, the A&P Association was formally established with Wilkin as Chair and William Moorhouse, the then Superintendent of the Province, as Patron. They bought the site of the first showgrounds in 1863 – a 14 acre site in Sydenham – which later became Sydenham Park. A show was held there on 22 October 1863 and, though affected by inclement weather, attracted some 1,500 people.
THE FIRST 100 YEARS
The Show gained in popularity and by 1878 the Association had paid off its mortgage after making a profit of £500. There was now an office building, new pens, and a display building for manufacturers and dairy farmers.
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 another five 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.
The move was quickly justified as attendance increased and new entries came from the North Island and the lower part of the South Island. By 1899, the Association was forced to lease more land to accommodate sideshows, industrial exhibitions and machinery, and car displays that became part of The Show’s wider general appeal.
By 1918 the Friday of Show Week had become People’s Day at the Show. In the 1950s, the official holiday for Canterbury’s anniversary was shifted from 16 December (the date of the arrival of the first of the First Four Ships), to the Friday of Show Week. That change meant an official holiday for the banks and businesses, allowing large numbers of people from both town and country to attend the show.
The depression of the 1930s and WWII took their toll on the Canterbury A&P Association and its Show but, although entries were poor, attendance reached record levels. .
By 1947 the mortgage on the Addington site was paid off and a motor camp developed on part of the grounds, adding a valuable source of income.
In 1962 the Canterbury A&P Association celebrated its centennial.
The Show continued to flourish putting pressure on the old facilities which had become too cramped and the grounds too dusty, prompting the Association to acquire a 250-acre block of land at Wigram from the Christchurch City Council. In 1997 it moved to the Canterbury Agricultural Park in Curletts Road where The Show still thrives today.
The first show at the larger site included an expanded range of events, from dog trials to axemen, 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 from Addington to the new site.
The Show was rebranded as The New Zealand Agricultural Show in 2018, a title worthy of cementing its future.
“The history of the A. and P. Association: Early Records” by J.L.W published 20 April 1910 held CCC Heritage files