Four young B.A. Graduates viz., Sriyuths U. Srinivas Rao, B. Padmanabha Baliga, B. Vaman Baliga and Arkal Vasudev Rao, when they were at Chennai developed an obsession of starting a school in Mangalore for the benefit of the Gowda Saraswath Brahmin community to which they belonged. Most members of that community in the district of Dakshina Kannada at that point of time were uneducated. They were joined by one more teacher Sri. A. Padmanabhayya.

In June, 1891, they hired a building in Mangalore just opposite the Kodialbail Chapel and started the Canara High School as their proprietory concern with the proprietors themselves becoming the first teachers.

In April 1893, the proprietor teachers gave up their proprietorship in favour of a board of Management consisting of reputed people from the community other than the teachers who had started the school. One of the important members of the said board of management was late Ammembal Subba Rao Pai, a reputed lawyer of Mangalore.

In June, 1894, the present Canara Girl's school was started to educate the girls up to 5th Standard. It took more than a quarter century to raise the level of education of girls to higher classes. The 8th standard was introduced in the year 1932. Both these institutions were managed by a single Board of Management till 1922. In that year, the Canara High school Association was started as a Society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 to take over the management of both these schools.

Ammembal Subba Rao Pai, a very pragmatic person gave effective leadership to the management of both the schools. He was a great social reformer and philanthropist. He also founded the Canara Bank in 1906. He died in the year 1909.

Till his death, he guided both the Institutions in the right path and because of his effective leadership, he is considered as the founder of the education movement in Dakshina Kannada.

The institution was started with the purpose of educating the members of the GSB Community, but later attained a secular status and the benefit of education is available to all, regardless of caste, creed or sex.

Following are the Institutions started by Canara High School Association to cater to the needs of the community:

Canara High School Main (1891), Canara Girls High School (1894), Canara High School (Urva) (1944), Canara Higher Primary School (1947), Canara Nursery School (1969), Canara English Higher primary School(1970), Canara Pre-University College (1972), Canara College (1973), Canara Balawadi School (1978), Canara English Higher Pri.School, Urva(1989), Canara Nursery School, Urva(1991), Canara Girls Institute of Food Processing(1998), Canara Engineering College (2001), Canara School (CBSE) (2009), Canara Montessori (2009)

Canara Engineering College is the millennium project of the Canara High School Association. It is a Konkani Linguistic Minority Institution. At present it has 7 sections with a total intake of 420 seats.