Squatter Heighway Jones of South Australia discovered the country around Kaniva in 1845. He claims to have had sheep grazing here by 1846 and the Tattyara run was gazetted in 1851. The homestead was only a few kilometres from the present townsite. Tattyara was named after the Tyatyalla Aborigines who inhabited the district.

The first township in the area was Lawloit which developed in the 1860s. The first selector arrived in 1875 and many others followed, particularly from 1879. They established wheat farms and 'mullenised' the land, which is to say it was cleared with a red-gum roller invented by a South Australian named Mullens. Three metres long and one metre in diameter it was hauled over the land by a team of 10 bullocks. This process squashed the mallee trees, after which the land was burnt then ploughed.

The township of Lillimur South developed in the late 1870s and was soon followed by Lillimur North. Another settlement, initially named 'Budjik', as it was situated on Budjik Hill, began to develop when a flour mill and grain shed was built there in 1881. The opening of a post office on the site in April 1882 saw the nascent town officially change its name to Kaniva. The word's origins are uncertain. It may derive from Kinnivie in Durham, England or from an Aboriginal word.

Several stores, two hotels, a mechanics institute, a school, a Wesleyan church and numerous businesses soon followed so that a thriving country town quickly developed while Lawloit and the two Lillimurs went into decline, much to the resentment of their inhabitants. Kaniva was gazetted in 1885 and benefited further from the arrival of the railway in 1886.

The town's most famous son was cartoonist, painter, illustrator and teacher Percy Leason who Wiregrassmay have used Kaniva as the basis for his cartoon strip which took place in the mythical town of 'Wiregrass'. He died in the USA in 1959.
Visitors may also find plaques of interest, depicting the history of the main street businesses along Commercial St. Also of interest in the following Australian short story of Miram Piram by Gordon Moyes.

For more history of Kaniva, contact the Kaniva Historical Museum which houses an extensive range of household items and farming memorabilia. It is a great resource for family history and has history books of Kaniva available for purchase. Commercial St Kaniva. Contact Bruce & Wendy Meyer, Ph 5392 2680 

To research family history, contact Ross & Fran McDonald. The geneology group meet at the Old Kaniva Shire Offices, Baker St, off Commercial St, opposite Mobil Roadhouse.