As one of Victoria’s premiere heritage buildings, St. Ann’s Academy is a jewel in the crown of BC’s capital city.
This former school and convent had its humble beginnings in a small 20- by 33-foot log cabin acquired by the Catholic Church in 1856. Four Sisters of St. Ann came to Victoria from Quebec in 1858 to teach school to Fort Victoria’s few children. In the time it took the Sisters to travel from Quebec to Victoria, the sleepy Fort town had been transformed into a booming city by the Fraser River gold rush.
The school soon outgrew the log cabin and moved to temporary quarters nearer the city centre. A new building was designed by Father Joseph Michaud and the construction was supervised by architect Charles Vereydhen and completed in September 1871. The new school was almost immediately too small and local architect, John Teague, was hired to design and build an addition in 1886.
At the same time, the original Roman Catholic Cathedral, designed by father Michaud and built in 1858, was moved from across Humboldt Street (formerly Kanaka Street) on skids to the rear of the central section of St. Ann’s Academy. Today this magnificent historic chapel is the site of numerous nondenominational weddings and concerts.
In 1910, another wing was added to the east side of the original St. Ann’s building to house the school while the 1886 west wing would house the convent. The new wing included classrooms, a museum, and an auditorium.
Of equal significance to the buildings of St. Ann’s are its grounds. Landscaped by Father Vullinghs between 1877 and 1913, the gardens became a sanctuary offering solace, exercise and beauty to all who walked or lingered there. Other areas of the Academy’s grounds were used for growing vegetables and berries, an orchard, a small cemetery and a cloistered garden used by those women preparing to be Sisters–called novices.
From 1858 to 1972 St. Ann’s Academy taught close to 36,000 students from Canada, the US, Central and South America, Mexico, and Asia.
The School at St. Ann’s Academy closed its doors in 1973. Dwindling enrolment and skyrocketing building maintenance costs hastened the demise of the school and convent.
The property was purchased by the provincial government, becoming part of the Provincial Capital Commission in 1982. This nationally, provincially, and municipally designated heritage site reopened in 1997.
Today, the building welcomes visitors from around the world and hosts a variety of private events, weddings, concerts and celebrations in addition to providing office space for the Ministry of Advanced Education. The grounds have become a popular green link from the Inner Harbour to Beacon Hill Park.
The original log Schoolhouse was moved to Elliot Street Square behind the Royal British Columbia Museum in 1973; it is Victoria’s oldest extant building.