Description of Historic Place
The St. Ann’s Academy National Historic Site of Canada is comprised of a monumental brick-clad building and former gardens which occupy approximately 6.25 acres of land within Victoria’s original urban core. The garden contains a formal processional allée created with tree rows and hedges, an orchard containing approximately 100 original fruit trees, a novitiate garden, a formally landscaped area containing several historic trees, structural remnants, formal gardens, hedges, historic paths and walkways, and additional plantings established by the Sisters of St. Ann around the Academy building and along sections of the site perimeter, and a perimeter wall and gates. The designation refers to the building in its landscape.
St. Ann’s Academy was designated a national historic site of Canada because of its role in the cultural and educational life of Western Canada for over a century, and because of its landmark status - due to its scale and the surrounding open space (formerly the gardens) - in the community.
Arriving in Victoria in 1858, the Quebec-based Sisters of St. Ann responded to the educational and nursing needs on the West Coast by opening a succession of convents, hospitals and mission schools throughout British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska. Their success created a demand for larger accommodations in Victoria which was met by construction of the first section of the present building in 1871, then by further additions in 1886 and 1910. From 1871 until its closing in 1973, St. Ann’s retained its stature as an important educational institute, and continues to symbolize the Sisters’ contribution to education and social service in Western Canada.
The distinctive architecture of St. Ann’s Academy reflects the strong influence of French Canadian religious orders during a formative period in the history of British Columbia. It was the largest building in the province in 1871, and remained the tallest masonry building in Victoria for most of its history. While the 1871-86 and 1910 sections of the building embody the neo-baroque characteristics of 19th-century Quebec convent design, the chapel is a unique transplantation of traditional 17th- and 18th-century Quebec ecclesiastic design tradition to the west coast. Built as the original Roman Catholic cathedral in Victoria in 1858 by Brother Charles Michaud, the original timber framed building was moved to its current site and incorporated into the academy complex in 1886. The heritage value of the chapel resides in its well-preserved interior massing and design features.
The landmark qualities and monumental scale of the Academy were enhanced by its positioning on the property, and by the landscaping of a formal driveway, rows of tree, hedges, formal gardens, orchard and perimeter walls. These elements impart an enclosed quality to the site, producing a tranquil setting that symbolized the religious and institutional character of the academy and communicated its separateness from the city beyond. The coherent treatment of building and landscape reflects over 100 years of continuous ownership and stewardship by the Sisters of St. Ann.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1989; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 2000.
Character-defining elements of the site include:
-the site in its defined boundaries;
-the siting and positioning of the Academy building within the landscape;
-the monumental scale of the Academy building and the surrounding open space;
-key sightlines which convey a sense of the Academy’s visual prominence, including views from Blanshard, Humboldt, Burdett and Quadra streets and from Beacon Hill Park;
-the sightline between the Academy and St. Joseph’s Hospital on the opposite side of Humboldt Street;
-the masonry wall and entrance gate on Humboldt Street and holly hedge on Blanshard Street which convey the sense of containment;
-the form, massing and exterior design features of the 1871-86 building including the symmetrical Palladian plan and classical elements such as the central pavilion flanked on both sides by 5-bay wings, pedimented portico over the front entranceway, pilasters, formal split staircase with decorative urns, cupola, balustraded balconies, gable roof with dormers, fenestration;
-the form, massing and exterior design features of the five-storey 1910 wing, including the slate-covered mansard roof with dormers, eaves brackets and frieze, pilasters, belt courses on the first level, pedimented entrance, recessed balconies with classical columns, fenestration and auditorium wing;
-original exterior surfaces, including brick walls painted in grey tones to present the appearance of stone, stone foundation walls on 1871-86 section, concrete foundation walls on 1910 section;
-original interior elements including the surviving layout, original floor, wall and ceiling materials, wooden mouldings, doors, wainscotting, architectural hardware and stained glass windows in the chapel, auditorium and 1871-86 sections;
-the form, massing and exterior design features of the chapel, including brick sheathing,
buttresses, fenestration, and the wooden substructure;
-spatial configuration, form and interior elements within the chapel including the 1913 Casavant organ, barrel vault, structural columns, curved staircase to choir loft, confessional, carved rosettes, sacristy, and plaster wall surfaces;
-the driveway extending from the front gates, designed in the tradition of a formal 'grand allée,' flanked by two historical sequoia trees; at the left of wich is an orchard area containing approximately 100 historical fruit trees planted in rows, and which divert into subsidiary lanes immediately in front of the main entrance staircase, and the flanking rows of trees and holly hedges;
-the novitiate garden area behind the convent wing of the 1886 building, including the original brick walkway and surviving historical plant material;
-the formal gardens and arboretum area on the western side of the site, including the topography, pathways, rows of arboretum trees, shrubs and hedges associated with the original Vullinghs landscape plan, and historic trees in the Academy Green area to the right of the driveway;
-surviving cultural resources, including the remnant corner marker of a former cemetery, a sundial plinth, metal rose arbour frame, battleship fountain and pond;
-historic paths and walkways and vestiges of structural fabric associated with them;
-formal plantings around the Academy building, including holly trees, rhododendrons,
box hedges and flower beds;
-perimeter plantings of mature trees including black locust, false cypresses, maples, Garry oak and laburnum.