Description of Historic Place
St. Ann's Academy is a large institutional building and extensive grounds in the Humboldt Valley on several acres facing Humboldt Street, located between Beacon Hill Park and downtown Victoria.
St. Ann's Academy is valued for its association with one of British Columbia's major pioneering religious orders, and for its role in the educational growth of the province. It is also the earliest and most prominent example of major convent architecture on the west coast.
As the provincial motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Ann, which originated in Quebec in 1848, this site embodies the strong presence of French Canadian missionaries in British Columbia's formative history. The Sisters, led by such influential women as Sister Mary Providence and Sister Mary Osithe, adapted and evolved their educational and missionary work in Victoria to include a school, a convent, a novitiate program, and nursing services at this site in order to meet the needs of the community. As the headquarters of the major Catholic female teaching order in the Pacific Northwest from 1871 until 1973, St. Ann's Academy manifests the growth of the educational and spiritual needs in the region and the province for over one hundred years.
Although St. Ann's Academy is typical of Canadian nineteenth century convent architecture, it is a rare example of its type on the west coast. Architecturally, the value of this landmark building lies in two major features: its large scale additive form, and the eclecticism of its design. The practicality of the building, which is fairly spare in detailing, is reflective of its primarily functional use. Following the pattern of antecedent convents in Quebec, the substantial composite form of the Academy building is attributable to a number of architects and builders over a considerable period of time. Architect Charles Vereydhen designed the original portion of the building in 1871 with plans for the first addition constructed by John Teague in 1886. The second addition by Thomas Hooper was constructed in 1909-10. The cathedral at the rear of the building was built by Father C. Michaud in 1858, and is notable for its wooden contruction reflective of Quebec provincial architecture. Part of a cluster of buildings on Humboldt Street that were built for the operation of the Roman Catholic Church, this was the first cathedral in Victoria, and was moved to its present location in 1886. The design of the Academy reflects the historic architectural idioms favoured by the Catholic Church in Canada; elements of all phases of the building's construction - such as the classical neo-Baroque detailing throughout, and the Second-Empire Style mansard roof of the 1910 addition - were chosen to reflect the Roman Catholic origins of the Sisters of St. Ann.
Additionally, the Academy's grounds contribute to Victoria's natural environment. The key features of the Academy grounds' evolving landscape are the Novitiate Garden, the front entrance lane, the orchards, the formal gardens, and the extensive collection of numerous species of trees, shrubs, and flowers which reflect the historic purposes of community enrichment, spirituality, and charity of the Sisters' institution. The location of St. Ann's is also significant, as together with Beacon Hill Park it creates a vital counterpoint of cultivated green space to the city's urban core.
Purchased by the provincial government in the early 1970s for use as offices, an interpretation centre, and a historic site, St. Ann's Academy remains as a testament to the spiritual and educational development of British Columbia.
Source: City of Victoria Planning and Development Department
The character-defining elements of St. Ann's Academy include:
- identification of the site with the Sisters of St. Ann, seen in such physical elements as cemeteries, monuments, signs, and plaques within the buildings and grounds
- the large expanse of grounds and its contribution to the accessibility and continuity of green space between St. Ann's and Beacon Hill Park
- the proximity of the building to St. Joseph's Hospital across Humboldt Street
- the Allee marked by entrance gates
- evidence of the evolving landscape, as seen in historic varieties of plants and trees, landscape planning and uses attributable to various stages of the Sisters of St. Ann's occupation of the site
- evidence of the historic educational and spiritual uses of the building and grounds, as seen in such features as the auditorium and chapel
- additive form of the school as seen in the various stages of its construction
- spatial configurations, form, and interior finishes of the1858 chapel
- design and detailing of the 1871 portion of the building, attributable to architect Vereydhen
- design and detailing of the 1886 portion of the building, attributable to architect Teague
- design and detailing of the 1909-10 portion of the building, attributable to architect Hooper
- authentic construction materials attributable to all major phases of construction
- authentic interior finishes, such as paint, floors, ceilings, doors, moldings and architectural hardware from the three periods of construction
Province of British Columbia
Heritage Conservation Act, s.9, s.13(1)(a)
Provincial Heritage Site (Designated)