The Canterbury Museum, situated on Rolleston Avenue, was designed by Benjamin Mountfort and opened in 1870.
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.
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.
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.