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St. Michael's Convent/ Belvedere Municipal Heritage Building

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, A1C, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1999/11/08

View of the Belvedere complex as seen on the tax atlas for 1918.; City of St. John's Archives 2007
St. John's Tax Atlas 1918
Photo of Mercy Convent as it looked not long after construction.  Note the mature trees and gardens, a responsibility of the Sisters of Mercy.; HFNL 2007
Mercy Convent - Belvedere as it looked originally
View of the main facade, showing the front porch.  ; HFNL 2007
Porch, Mercy Convent

Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1826/01/01 to 1827/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2008/11/25

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

St. Michael's Convent, also known as Belvedere Orphanage, is a two-and-a-half-storey hipped roof building located on Bonaventure Avenue in St. John’s. Built 1826-1827 as a single dwelling, the house served as a convent run by the Sisters of Mercy from 1859 until 1999. This designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

St. Michael's Convent is designated a Municipal Heritage Building due to its historic, and environmental values.

Constructed in 1826-1827, St. Michael's Convent is thought to be the second oldest building in St. John’s. St. Michael's Convent was originally built by Alexander Norris, as a single dwelling for Alexander Hugh Emerson, a lawyer and politician in Newfoundland. The Convent is significant as an example of a grand house for an elite member of the St. John’s community. The house was unusually large for a single dwelling featuring two kitchens, two drawing rooms, a dining room, study, and ten bedrooms. This size of the house is indicative of the affluence of Emerson.

Emerson sold the house to Bishop Fleming in 1847, and it became a home for the Franciscans and the death place of Fleming in 1850. This association with Bishop Fleming is historically valuable as Fleming was highly influential in Newfoundland during his lifetime. He is known as the man who is responsible for the building of the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and as a figure who shaped Newfoundland politics in its infancy.

In 1859 the Sisters of Mercy converted the building into a convent and orphanage and renamed it St. Michael's Convent and Orphanage in honour of their benefactor, Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming. The building soon became too small to accommodate the number of girls. Accordingly, a new orphanage was built in 1885. The rooms used previously to accommodate the orphans now became part of St. Michael's Convent.

St. Michael's Convent is historically valuable for its association with the Sisters of Mercy. This Order was formed in Dublin in 1831 by Sister Catherine McAuley. The Sisters of Mercy have made a very important contribution to the community of St. John’s through their work in various fields. The Mercy Sisters are known for their work in health care at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital, as well as their work with the elderly at St. Patrick’s Mercy Home, and especially for their work in education. The Sisters of Mercy lived at St. Michael's Convent until 1999 and today the convent serves as a reminder of the contributions of the Mercy Sisters to the community of St. John’s.

St. Michael's Convent is environmentally valuable for its location in St. John’s. The Convent is located in the centre of the city on a parcel of land once known as Belvedere. It is one of a larger number of buildings that create a complex of ecclesiastical buildings in this area.

Source: City of St. John's meeting held 1999/11/08

Character-Defining Elements

All elements that relate to the age, construction and period design of the convent, including:
-location in St. John’s;
-timber frame construction;
-original window sizes and placements;
-style and pitch of existing roof:
-placement and style of dormer windows;
-placement and design of main door on front facade;
-use of wood clapboard; and
-building size, massing, and height.



Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Authority

City of St. John's

Recognition Statute

City of St. John's Development Regulations

Recognition Type

City of St. John's Heritage Building

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Building Social and Community Life
Religious Institutions

Function - Category and Type


Commerce / Commercial Services
Office or Office Building


Single Dwelling

Architect / Designer



Alexander Norris

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1 Springdale Street, St. John's, NL, A1C 5V5

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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