Canning was born in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, the daughter of Wayne and Daphne Canning, and was raised in Sherwood Park, near Edmonton, Alberta. She competed as a figure skater in her childhood and early adolescent years, and became interested in theatre as a student at F.R. Haythorne Junior High. Canning starred in several stage productions while attending Bev Facey Community High School, and acted in shows at her hometown stage at Festival Place. Canning made her professional acting debut in George Orwell's 1984 at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton at the age of 18. She began studying general arts at the University of Alberta, and considered going into journalism. Still interested in performing, Canning left university and moved to Vancouver at 19, to pursue a career in acting. She graduated from a year-long acting program at the Vancouver Film School.