With headwaters on the Darling Scarp, the Canning meanders through suburbs of Perth on the Swan Coastal Plain, including Cannington, Thornlie, Riverton, Shelley, Rossmoyne and Mount Pleasant, before joining the Swan at Melville Water just downstream of the Canning Bridge.
The first European contact was in 1801 when a French exploring party spotted the mouth. The crew subsequently named the mouth Entrée Moreau after Charles Moreau, a midshipman with the party.
The Canning River received its contemporary name in 1827 when Captain James Stirling aboard HMS Success following an examination of the region in March 1827 named the river after George Canning, an eminent British statesman who was Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time and whose government facilitated the funds for the expedition.
In November 1829, just five months after the founding of the Swan River Colony in Western Australia, an exploring party led by now Governor James Stirling chose a site for a new town named Kelmscott on the banks of the Canning River.
Convicts partly constructed and maintained the Canning River Convict Fence. This structure is still a notable landmark to this day. It was built primarily for the use of barges carrying timber from Mason's Timber Mill in the Darling Ranges.