Marie-Helene Bourret leads the tours at St. Ann's Academy every Sunday at 1 p.m. in French and 2:30 p.m. in English.

Marie-Helene Bourret leads the tours at St. Ann's Academy every Sunday at 1 p.m. in French and 2:30 p.m. in English.

St. Ann’s Academy showcases Victoria’s French connection

Tours are given every Sunday during the summer, at 1 p.m. in French and 2:30 p.m. in English.

Though the majority of St. Ann’s Academy now houses the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, the building’s old Quebec-style masonry, Mansard roof and stained glass windows stand as a testament to its rich history.

Rev. Modeste Demers, bishop of Vancouver Island, brought the first group of sisters to Victoria from Quebec in 1858, in order to tend to the sick and educate both European and First Nations children.

As the mission pre-dated confederation, Demers chose the four most physically capable sisters to head west with him.

St. Ann’s cathedral was erected that same year, followed by the school in 1871, the sisters’ residence in 1886, and the auditorium and boarding house in 1910.

St. Ann’s was operated by the Roman Catholic Sisterhood until 1973, when declining enrolment led the sisters to sell the buildings and grounds to the provincial government for $1.

In 1985, the building was closed for 10 years, until being designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1989 and spending half a decade undergoing renovations. More than$16.5 million was poured into restoring the site by municipal, provincial and federal governments, the highest renovation cost of any heritage site in B.C.

Nowadays, the academy serves as a monument to the Victoria’s French connection and pre-confederate history. By-donation tours are given every Sunday during the summer, at 1 p.m. in French and 2:30 p.m. in English.