The University's original, unauthorised coat of arms was adapted from the Canterbury Provincial Government coat of arms in 1873. The coat of arms featured symbols including the sheep's fleece, plough, and cross, which refer to the influences of the church and agriculture on the founding of Canterbury. These were accompanied by the Virgilian motto "Ergo tua rura manebunt" from Eclogues, meaning "therefore the lands shall remain yours", a reference to UC’s original land endowment.
This particular coat of arms, carved in Oamaru stone, was saved from Helen Connon Hall in 2001 when the building was demolished. The building which was built in 1929 was the first female hostel and it was named after Helen Connon, the first woman student to be admitted to Canterbury College. She gained her MA with first-class honours in English and Latin in 1881 and became the first woman in the British Empire to get a degree with honours.
When the University of Canterbury became autonomous in 1961 the then Chancellor, Mr. C H Perkins, sought formal approval for an official coat of arms. Fine Arts Professor John Simpson designed a simplified version of Canterbury College's arms and it was duly approved and authorised by the English Kings of Arms in Letters Patent dated 10 May 1965.