St. Ann's Academy Commemorated with Exhibition at Art Gallery of Greater Victoria


St. Ann's Academy on Humboldt Street in Victoria. Photo by Sue Frause.

While spending a few days in Victoria recently, I walked past St. Ann's Academy on Humboldt Street on my way to Cook Street Village. Now a National Historic Site, it was originally established as a convent by the Sisters of St. Ann from Lachine, Quebec. The chapel, the oldest part of the academy, was built in 1858 and was the original St. Andrew's Cathedral (Victoria's oldest cathedral). 

St. Ann's Academy was an all girls school and convent, one of the first schools in British Columbia to offer an art program. The Sisters of St. Ann acknowledged the potential of art education to prepare students for both the spiritual and practical aspects of life. For 103 years, from 1873 until the Academy closed in 1973, the Sisters offered classes to both students and the Victoria community. 

The role the Sisters of St. Ann played as pioneering artists and art educators in Victoria is being commemorated at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria this summer. Nurturing the Creative Spirit: The Sisters of St. Ann runs from July 18 through Dec. 8, 2013 in the AGGV's Drury Gallery. It also celebrates the gift of 18 paintings from the Sister's art collection to the Gallery in 2011.

The works in the collection include important historic scenes of early Victoria, inspiring religious works and Emily Carr's painting, Wild Lilies. Carr's painting is currently on display in the AGGV's feature exhibition Emily Carr: On the Edge of Nowhere. Carr gave the painting to the Sisters of St. Ann in appreciation for the care they provider for her sister Elizabeth, who died in 1936. 

St. Ann's Academy was purchased by the BC Provincial Capital Commission in 1974. After major restoration work, the PCC operates the Interpretive Center (self-guided tours are offered) and the Ministry of Advanced Education leases office space. The 1920 auditorium has also been restored, and along with six acres of grounds, is available for public use. St. Ann's is a popular venue for weddings, as well as concerts, festivals and celebrations. 

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