According to the IBGE, Brazil's Geography and Statistics Institute, Canoas currently has no rural areas, but it started as a village of large landowners. The first of them was conquistador Francisco Pinto Bandeira, who received from the Portuguese Crown, in 1740, an area north of the Gravataí River.
History has that 1871 was the beginning of the village of Canoas, when the first section of the railway that would link Porto Alegre to São Leopoldo was inaugurated. Canoas was then part of the municipalities of Gravataí and São Sebastião do Caí. Soon large farms would lose space to small properties.
After obtaining city status, Canoas experienced rapid growth, especially after 1945. At that time, it would be called a "cidade-dormitório" (Portuguese for "bedroom city"), because thousands of people would commute to neighboring Porto Alegre to work. However, de-industrialisation in Porto Alegre, the setting-up of numerous manufacturing plants in Canoas and a strong demographic growth have reverted that situation and nowadays Canoas has a per capita GDP higher than Porto Alegre.
Canoas ("Canoes" in English) consists of mostly large sprawling neighborhoods and a lively business district, as well as numerous large factories, among them the
Refinaria Alberto Pasqualini (REFAP), a Petrobrasoil refinery. The city's neighbourhoods follow a common pattern in Brazil, combining new high-end districts showing rapid urban development with working-class areas which turn into slums as one moves away from the city centre.
The city's poorest neighbourhoods were originally unplanned. The
Guajuviras subdivision, the old Guajuviras Farm that was developed by the government, was originally settled by squatters before the government officially opened the property for inhabitation. Although traditionally crime-ridden, Guajuviras has experienced lower criminality levels as of lately due to government intervention and the better living conditions experienced by Brazilians in general.