The name Canning first appears in a reference to “Canning River” when an allocation of 250,000 acres (approximately 100,000 hectares) of land was made in 1828 to Thomas Peel. Named after George Canning, a British statesman and the Prime Minister in 1827, it continues in the names of Cannington, Canning Highway, Canning Vale and City of Canning.
- Settlement along the Canning River commenced after November 1829 when the failure of the original grantee Thomas Peel didn’t arrive in the Colony by the required date. The original area spread from Fremantle to the hills and was basically that area south of the Swan River. Development was slow due to a number of factors including poor land for agriculture over a large portion and conflict with the original inhabitants. Aboriginal people had used the land for eons and the hostilities between the Europeans and Aboriginals led to lives being lost by both groups.
- In the space of 20 years many of the original estates were being sold or abandoned as along with the rest of the Colony a period of depression occurred. The centre of colonial Canning development was a little south of the current City of Canning boundary in what is now the Kenwick area. The pattern of land grants and early road networks influenced sub-division patterns over the ensuing decades. The land taken up was used for mixed farming with most people struggling to survive. There was no infrastructure such as schools, churches or community facilities. Ad hoc activities took place as time and energy permitted between neighbours and the occasional visitor.
- The Canning River was the major access route with a ferry service operating between Yule’s rapids and Bull’s Creek. Roads, or more correctly bush tracks, connected Canning to Fremantle, Perth and Guildford. It wasn’t until the introduction of convict labour in the late 1850s that major improvements were possible. Five new roads were gazetted and today’s Manning, Spencer and Fremantle Roads along with South Street and the Roe Highway broadly follow the original lines. John Bentley, a warder in charge of the convict crew building the Albany Road has his name continuing in the suburb of Bentley where his gang camped.
- The forty year period after the colony’s commencement saw a gradual improvement and increase in settlement. More crown land became available and a timber industry started to emerge. In the mid 1860s Benjamin Mason was allocated a licence to cut timber in the Darling Ranges and obtained land on the Canning River to develop a Landing to ship timber down to Perth and Fremantle. Five years later he was joined by Francis Bird and the resulting Mason, Bird Timber Coy grew to become one of the largest employers of workers in the Colony. Two centres of operations developed; a mill site in Carmel and another mill at the river where the landing had become known as Mason’s Landing. Bird’s input resulted in a tramway being constructed to bring the timber from the hills’ mill to the Landing for additional processing and shipping.
- By 1874 both Mason and Bird were living in what is now Cannington, and Bird, an architect, had designed, built and moved into Woodloes which remains as the oldest house in Canning and now serves as the local museum.
- An enduring legacy is the remains of a fence built through the Shelley Basin of the Canning River. Known as the ‘convict fence’ due to their involvement in construction, the fence and associated wattle framework was supposed to keep a channel open so the timber-laden barges could progress down river. Unfortunately it was not successful and despite a number of rebuilds the silting up of the river was a contributor to the problems encountered by Mason and Bird. Ultimately the enterprise did not succeed and by 1882 bankruptcy occurred with the company and properties sold off. The centre of the Cannington area moved from the river up to the Albany Road.
- Into the 1880s and Edward Cockram developed an hotel and store to cater for the new arrivals taking advantage of the subdivision of the Woodloes Estate. This subdivision included a town site in the area between Mason’s Landing and Albany Road. The 1890s saw new life breathed into the area. Construction of the South West Railway commenced and Cannington Station opened in 1897 with Welshpool siding opening the following year. George Wilson started his horticultural business and Wilson & Johns were to continue in the district for more than 50 years.
- A school started in the Congregational Church. The building included a fireplace and was known as the Church with the Chimney, with a reproduction of it now in the grounds of Woodloes Museum. The school continued and in 1898 the government made it a state school, with a school building on the Albany Road. The influx of small agricultural holdings led to an annual show commencing during the 1890s and in recognition the colonial government provided funds for building an agricultural hall.
- By the turn of 20th century, Cannington had become well established. Stephen Gibbs had built an hotel (The Cecil Hotel), just up the road from Cockram’s Cannington Hotel; the railway had a stop at Cannington; government education of children had commenced and local businesses including shops, blacksmiths and coach builders established. One owner of the Cecil Hotel even provided a sports ground over the road from his establishment, for events such as cricket and horse racing, no doubt with an eye on additional patronage as well. Kenwick ceased to be the centre of Canning with the focus now being on Cannington. The centre of local government and the Anglican church relocated up to Cannington around the turn of the century and both a Methodist church and a Roman Catholic church were built in the following decade.
Images: Benjamin and Eliza Mason; The Convict Fence in the Canning River; Cannington School, c.1897.
- Following WWI, Canning gradually grew both in population and in physical size. The area south of the Canning River was previously part of the Jandakot Agricultural Area and had its own Roads Board. In the early 1920s, Jandakot Roads Board was abolished with part of its area distributed to Canning and Gosnells. The area of Canning now straddled the Canning River stretching from Welshpool to Canning Vale.
- Fred Riley, a market gardener in the old agricultural district petitioned the government for a bridge across the Canning River. The project was finally agreed on the condition that the local community made a financial contribution to the cost. It was said that Riley contributed most of the community input and although the bridge has always been officially “Riverton Bridge”, the locals called it Riley’s bridge for many years.
- The river was a major focus in these years. Although no longer a major transport route with the advent of better roads through the district, it was though a well-used resource for agricultural purposes. As early as 1916, discussions were taking place about putting a lock across the river to keep tidal salt water out in the summer months in order that the trapped fresh water could be used for irrigation. Numerous sites for a weir were considered including Salters Point, Watts Road, Bungaree Road, a spot between Kent and Wharf Streets, and at Nicholson Road Bridge. Trial sand bag weirs near the latter had been installed for years previously to test the concept. After much discussion, a site at the end of Kent Street was chosen and finally the weir built and opened by 1927.
- Growth of the area resulted in the Town Hall being considered too small and in 1926 a two storey addition was added to the front. This provided not only additional seating for moving picture shows via a mezzanine floor but also more room for the offices and meeting room of the Roads Board on the lower.
- The Canning War Memorial, built in 1921 at the front of the hall, was now just a few feet from the front of the extended Hall. Following WWII it was considered that a better and larger site was needed and after representation from the Canning R.S.L., a committee was formed to review options. It was agreed that a site on the corner of Albany Highway and Fremantle Road (now renamed Manning Road) was best. The Arch was dismantled and re-erected with an additional section regarding WWII, and used for the first time for the Anzac Day service in 1956.
- Development of the area was slow. A number of dairies were established in the Queens Park/East Cannington area as well as the Ferndale and Riverton district. Riverton, as most of the area south of the Canning River was known, was advertised as being suitable for market gardens however it was only in pockets around swamps that were successful.
- Clay in areas near the river on both sides was suitable for brick making and several small brickworks were established with what appears to be the largest of these in what we now know as Adenia park.
- In the 1930s after cremation became legal in Western Australia, a plot of land near the river in Riverton was allocated to the Sikh community for cremation purposes and at least two known cremations took place in that decade.
- WWII saw the development of a munitions factory at Welshpool. After the cessation of hostilities the area was subdivided, leading to the development of the Welshpool Industrial Estate. There were several large engineering and foundry firms from before WWII including Thomas Bros; Forwood Down WA; and Structural Engineering Co.
Images: The opening of Riverton Bridge, 1911; The Canning Town Hall, 1927; Forwood Down, 1929.
- Canning’s development took off in the post-WWII years. Increased migration meant new areas for housing and employment were needed and Canning was an ideal location. The broad area commonly referred to as Riverton was divided up. Suburbs which grew include Rossmoyne, Shelley, Lynwood, Ferndale, Parkwood and Willetton. Riverton still retained its own identity as the suburbs grew. An ambitious project reclaiming part of the Canning River led to the suburb of Shelley. During the 1960s the suburbs around Lynwood were heavily promoted in the U.K. with resulting increase in residents. Riverton had and influx of people from the Netherlands whilst Queens Park and Cannington had an increasing Italian population. This was the start of a wide spread of communities from around the world that has continued to grow and make Canning one of the most diverse ethnics communities in Western Australia.
- While primary industry such as dairying and market gardening disappeared with the population growth, secondary industry expanded. The industrial area of Welshpool increased and a new light industrial area developed in Willetton. In the early 1970s the State Government through the Industrial Lands Development Authority commenced development of the Canning Vale industrial area. Major organisations to move there included the Swan Brewery; the Metropolitan Markets; Good Samaritan Industries and Coles distribution centre.
- As the Canning grew local government responded to change. Town Planning Schemes were implemented which guided development in an ordered manner. Places to live were needed by the growing population. The 1970s saw the development of Willetton and then Canning Vale. Older suburbs began to be rejuvenated with the sub division of the old large land holdings in smaller residential blocks. Social housing developed by the State Government took place in Bentley and included at one stage the multi-level Brownlie Towers. The Towers, built in 1969 were removed in 2019 in response to changing needs.
- Sporting and community amenities were needed and Canning’s first swimming facility opened in Bentley in 1969 and a recreation centre in Queens Park in 1979. The number of community halls and a variety of sports grounds grew to meet community demand. In 1974 Western Australia’s first greyhound racing venue opened on land belonging to the Canning Agricultural Society. In the early 2000s two major leisure centres opened – Riverton and Cannington Leisureplexes replacing the now ageing Bentley pool and Queens Park recreation centre.
- Aged persons facilities came into being – firstly with housing in Wilson and then Rossmoyne and then with seniors centres in Queens Park and Willetton. Other services followed with residential care being provided as well as Meals on Wheels operations starting.
- Libraries started with the Bentley library in Manning Road and grew with Riverton, Willetton and Queens Park following. A new library as part of the Cannington Leisureplex complex replaced Queens Park library and Bentley library has evolved to a new service at Hilltop in South Bentley. Information about the history and heritage of Canning can be found at Riverton Library.
- The Canning River continues to be a focus of the district. A regional park developed along both sides of the river from the Shelley Bridge to the Nicholson Road Bridge ensures that native flora and fauna is protected. Historic sites along the river are recognised and community facilities both within the park and along other portions provide opportunities for enjoyment by residents from near and far.
Images: Shelley following foreshore reclamation scheme; Bentley Library - Canning's first library; New houses in Willetton, 1970s.