From their humble beginning, St. Ann’s Convent (designated as an Academy in the early 1890s) grew in stages, as demand increased and funds were raised. Eventually it became one of the largest, best-equipped educational institutions in the region.
In 1871, construction of the new convent/school began. The first phase saw the creation of the centre section of the Convent as we know it today. It was one of the first four-storey masonry buildings in Victoria. The architectural design was the work of Brother (later Father) Joseph Michaud, C.S.V. Mr. Charles Vereydhen, was responsible for the laborious task of constructing the building. As well as using red bricks, the building featured neo-classical detailing such as pilasters, a pediment gable roof, and a parapet enclosed by a balustrade. To give the impression of stone, the exterior was finished with grey sand-embedded paint.
In 1886, the school expanded once again. The east block, built by Mr. John Teague was based on Father Michaud’s original architectural plans. Classically inspired additions included a relocated main entrance with an impressive curved double stairway and a pediment gable pavilion. Tripled in size, the two conjoined edifices created larger dining rooms, dormitories, recreation rooms, parlours, a music conservatory, library, infirmary, dispensary, classrooms and administrative offices.
In 1910, the third and final addition later known as the “Hooper Wing” was designed and built by Mr. Thomas Hooper, of Victoria. Unlike the earlier sections, it included a fifth storey topped by a mansard roof. This was reminiscent of the Second Empire Style, a popular feature of the Church’s institutional buildings across Canada late in the 19th century. The combination of architectural styles incorporated into the building over its 39-year construction period reflected the influence of Renaissance Revival, Baroque Revival, Second Empire, and traditional building practices of rural Quebec.
A common immutable feature of convents is the presence of a chapel. Upon his arrival in June 1858, Brother Michaud under the direction of Bishop Demers, began construction of St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. It was constructed of logs and timber from Vancouver Island and redwood from California. It contained simple classical details common among the small parish churches of Quebec, with hand-carved ornamentation on the ceiling, pillars, and altars.
In 1886, the chapel was moved from its original location across the road to St. Ann’s Academy. Encased in brick, it became an integral part of the newly built school. Original oil paintings created by Sister Mary Osithe Labossière remain behind and beside the main altar. In 1913, the magnificent Casavant pipe organ made in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec was installed along with the stained-glass windows.
Being one of the oldest religious buildings in British Columbia, St. Ann’s Chapel as it is now known, continues to be of historical, religious, and catholic importance to the local community as an interfaith chapel.
For over 100 years, St. Ann’s Academy was the headquarters for the Sisters of St. Ann in the Pacific North West. Eventually, declining enrolment and high operating costs forced the school to close in 1973. Administrative operations moved to Begbie Street and remain as the headquarters to date.
The Sisters are also responsible for many developments across the Province of British Columbia, including building and staffing schools and owning and operating nine hospitals. For instance, in collaboration with Doctor John S. Helmcken, the Sisters also opened St. Joseph’s Hospital on June 25, 1876. This was followed by the opening of St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in 1900 to educate nurses, in addition to providing missionaries, and training of young Sisters in the Novitiate. Today the Sisters of St. Ann continue their ministry in education, healthcare, ecumenical work, and services to the larger community in which they now reside.