Description of Historic Place
The Notre Dame Convent is a four storey brick Second Empire style building located at 246 Sydney Street. It overlooks Hillsborough Square, one of Charlottetown's five public squares, and features an elaborate central entrance and symmetrically placed arched windows. The designation encompasses the building's exterior and parcel; it does not include the building's interior.
The heritage value of the Notre Dame Convent lies in its role as an educational institution, its association with the Congregation of Notre Dame, its Second Empire influenced architecture, and its role in supporting the streetscape.
Bishop Bernard MacDonald (1797-1859) was responsible for the establishment of the Notre Dame convent in Charlottetown when he brought four nuns from the Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal to Charlottetown in 1857. The nuns would reside in a building on the corner of Sydney and Weymouth Streets and operate a convent school for girls from the building, which was donated by local businessman, Daniel Brenan. Classes at Notre Dame Academy began 12 October 1857 with one student boarder and 15 day scholars. The Congregation of Notre Dame was a non-cloistered order of sisters founded by Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys in Montreal, Quebec. They were particularly well known for their efforts in the education of young women and men.
By 1869, the Charlottetown school had outgrown its donated building and plans were made to build a new school. Architect, John Corbett who had worked on a number of projects for the Diocese of Charlottetown, was hired to design the new convent. Painter, J.W. Ashbourne, who was in Charlottetown working on the new St. Dunstan's Cathedral, was hired to paint frescoes on the interior walls.
On 5 July 1870, the opening of the Notre Dame Academy was marked with a concert put on by the students. It would be the first in a long line of concerts, bazaars, recitals, religious processions and graduations reported on by the local media. An 1870 advertisement in the Islander newspaper indicated that students could take a wide range of academic subjects as well as languages, art, music and bookkeeping. Board and tuition amounted to 15 dollars per term quarter. Since the school's opening in 1857 until classes ceased in 1971, the sisters of Notre Dame educated Roman Catholic and Non Roman Catholic students from all across Prince Edward Island. After 1971, students could still acquire private instruction in music at the convent. The building is still used as a convent to this day.
The exterior of the Notre Dame Convent has changed little since it was constructed except for the addition of an annex in 1911. The Second Empire style of the building is shown in its Mansard roof which is flat on top with sloping sides. The academy annex has a similar styled roof with dormer windows. The beautiful building has been well maintained throughout its history and remains a dominant presence on the Sydney Street streetscape and from some vistas, the Charlottetown skyline.
Sources: Heritage Office, City of Charlottetown Planning Department, PO Box 98, Charlottetown, PE C1A 7K2
The following Second Empire influenced character-defining elements contribute to the heritage value of the Notre Dame Convent:
- The overall massing of the building with its four storeys
- The brick exterior including the arches above the windows and corbelled design at the roofline
- The stone accents such as the keystones in the arches above the windows and the foundation
- The Mansard roof
- The size and placement of the windows, particularly the symmetrically placed arched windows with grouped arched windows in the centre
- The size and placement of the doors, including the centre placement of the main double doors that lead into a porch with transom and side lights, the doors of the west side of the building that also lead into a porch and the doors of the 1911 annex
- The elaborate porches of the centre and west side of the building, with large windows, pilasters and attractive bracketing at the roofline
- The size and placement of the chimneys
Other character-defining elements include:
- The location of the convent overlooking the Hillsborough Square
- The size and shape of the 1911 annex with its brick construction, Mansard roof, arched windows, gabled dormers and paneled doors