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St. Ann’s Academy a jewel in downtown Victoria

A slice of history is open to the public
St. Ann’s Academy. (Courtesy St. Ann’s)

As one drives past St. Ann’s Academy it might be that one pays it little notice, other than to note that it looks like a very lovely building. It is, of course, but that doesn’t do it justice. This is a building with a rich history.

St. Ann’s Academy was built in 1858 as St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Victoria’s first Roman Catholic Cathedral. It was physically moved to its current location on Humboldt in 1886.

The academy functioned as a girl’s Catholic boarding school, and served as the Provincial House, convent and novitiate.

The St. Ann’s Schoolhouse, built in 1884, was moved off the site and is now an active display as part of the Royal BC Museum display in Heritage Court.

The Academy stopped being a school almost 100 years after St. Ann’s Schoolhouse was built, and the chapel was deconsecrated in 1974.

“For a time, no one knew what to do with it,” said Shannon Gregg, the program coordinator at St. Ann’s. “Then one day a wrecking ball arrived, and it appeared that it was going to be demolished.”

Fortunately, a group of concerned citizens stepped in and with the help of the government of the day, part of the building was saved.

Much of the building had fallen into such disrepair that there was no hope of saving it as it was. So, during much of the 1990s, part of the building was gutted and rebuilt as government offices.

The exterior facade of this beautiful building was retained and repaired. The chapel, parlours and infirmary were kept as an interpretive centre and restored to their 1920s decor. The building was re-opened in 1997.

The main chapel continues to operate as a National Historic Site and an interfaith facility, popular for weddings. After all, how many brides can walk down the aisle to the sound of a 1913 Casavant pipe organ?

The surrounding acres of fruit trees and gardens continue to be a haven for contemplative visitors as well.

Oh, and did we mention that St. Ann’s is rumoured to be haunted?

“It’s said that there’s a benign, nurturing, presence. Some of the sisters who lived here gave their whole life to this school. Perhaps they’re still protecting it in spirit,” said Gregg.

READ MORE: A cornerstone of Victoria’s Francophone history