You are here : Home » History And Research » People » Community Spirit

Community Spirit

Crossing Guards, late 1950's Crossing Guards, late 1950's
(click for larger image)

The Academy and Convent was a community comprised mostly of women. They were strong and independent and tried to impress the idea that women could have those important qualities upon the Novices and students. One woman stated, "I learned from a long heritage that the difference between male and female was just that they were male and female, that they weren't any cleverer, intellectually." (S. Scott) The connection to the Mother House in Lachine remained strong, and these ties to their Foundress and their peers was important to the Sisters. It is telling that reunions continue to bring alumnae from distant shores, to see their fellow St. Ann's teachers, classmates and roommates, for they too developed a connection, through a common experience.

Life was not always about work. The Sisters planned great celebrations. Feasts marked the important dates on the religious calendar, and food, although simple, was carefully prepared for these occasions. Graduation parties and banquets were staged for student accomplishments. It was the task of the Grade 11 class to come up with a theme and decorations for the Grade 12 dinner. During the final two graduations at the high school, the Middle Ages and a 1920s Speak Easy, complete with servers dressed as flappers, were great successes. Mini carnivals, music and games were played out in the halls. Everyone came together in the chapel, beautiful, serene and often called "the heart of St. Ann's". It must therefore have been the heart of the community.

Many aspects to the constant support of other women made even the most trying times bearable. There was a hierarchy within the Convent, with women who were assigned to different types of duties and others who had more crucial responsibilities and decision-making powers. However, they attempted to live harmoniously and to find a balance that would enhance their order.

Very little is known about the many lay persons that worked at the Academy. These were the staff members who had chosen life at the convent, but had not become part of the religious order. From Mary Mainville, who arrived with the first four Sisters in 1858, to the service men who maintained the building, to the teachers of art, literature, science and a myriad of other subjects during the school's long history, these people also played a vital role at St. Ann's, one that is constantly overshadowed by other aspects of the Academy's history.

Presentation of a Trophy for being "Best School in Victoria" during Fire Prevention Week, 1962 Presentation of a Trophy for being "Best School in Victoria" during Fire Prevention Week, 1962
(click for larger image)

There were many occasions when the girls got themselves into mischief. Sometimes their antics were amusing, and sometimes they tried the community spirit, as solutions were sought for 'bad behaviour'. A small bell, used in Belgium during World War I, was rung to draw the attention of the students, and when it came time for classes to commence and the bell hadn't sounded, it was cause for concern. When a Sister discovered the clapper was missing from the bell, she worried about the cost of replacement as well as the theft. An assembly was called and a student eventually came forth: she had been collecting the clappers as souvenirs, one for each year she had been registered at the school!

In another incident, the girls gathered for a party in the dorms, late at night. They laughed and ate snacks they had smuggled in. Although they were quiet, soon the entire boarding school was involved. They all returned to their beds, thinking they would get away with their soirée, until the next day, when a sheet was posted, for the girls who had the party to sign up for window washing duty. When the Sister saw all those names, she called the students together. She said, "I only have one thing to say. Next time, INVITE ME!"


The boarders formed a close bond. These students not only went to classes together, but they shared a living space. Whether they had the pink bedspreads of the little girls or the blue ones of the older girls, their closeness was like that of an extended family. Many boarders had a friendly relationship with the day students, and when the Academy stopped taking students to reside at the school in the final years, many were taken in by the families that lived nearby. There were spaces that were restricted to the resident students. In addition to the dorms themselves, the boarders had a lounge upstairs with a television and one on the main floor, which they redecorated themselves in the 1960s, in orange and brown, which was "just gorgeous at the time".

Boarders Rates Per Month (c. 1930)
  Resident Boarders Weekly Boarders
Entrance Fee (pay once) $5.00 $5.00
High School (Board and Tuition) $35.00 $30.00
Grammar Grades (5,6,7,8) $34.00 $29.00
Primary Grades (1,2,3,4) $33.00 $28.00
Normalists (Board Only) $30.00 $25.00


The kitchen and scullery was on the south side of the school, underneath the chapel area. A soup kitchen was set up by the Sisters, and food was regularly left for men who had fallen on difficult times. They could sit on benches, in a quiet spot, as they ate. Many other activities were organized to assist those in need. The quiet, purposeful manner in which the Sisters went about all their tasks extended to the operation of St. Joseph's Hospital. A genuine interest in the wellbeing of others is what had attracted these women to the order of the Sisters of Saint Ann, and they passed this spirit of charity along to the students.

During the 1950s, a drive was organized to collect clothing for the victims of the Hungarian Revolution. Even when festivities were underway, the girls were encouraged to think of others, and the school Halloween parties were preceded with a neighbourhood canvas for Save the Children. The girls often took it upon themselves to contribute to their communities and assisted mothers in low income housing areas with cleaning and childcare and brightened the days of patients at the hospital with friendly visits. Catherine Manthorpe participated in an offshoot of the choir that sang in local nursing homes during the Christmas season.

Often it was the students themselves that were in need. The very first school prospectus made it clear that a lack of funds would not exclude those who wanted to learn, for providing education for ALL children was the very reason Mother Marie Anne had begun this teaching order. One student who attended the Academy during the 1960s and 70s came from a large family, which made paying tuition difficult. She comments, "There was never any question that they would keep us out if we couldn't pay." The Sisters took the pupils with the full expectation that they might never see the full tuition, but the mother was determined to repay them for their service and the Sisters received their final payment almost twenty years after the school closed.

The closure of St. Ann's Academy, the Novitiate and the Convent brought great sadness. The girls who had to graduate elsewhere were perhaps the most disappointed, and many who had spent most of their lives there were uncertain about the future of their community of Sisters. As one woman put it, "The people are stronger than the building."

With the restoration of St. Ann's other groups are now involved. The Society of the Friends of St. Ann's Academy Victoria, restoration and historic conservation interests, the Province of British Columbia, architects, the B.C. Fruit Testers, the Victoria arts community and many other groups and individuals in Victoria have become involved in rejuvenating the building and grounds, so that the site continues as an important historic landmark.

The Sisters of Saint Ann continue to have a presence in Victoria. Following the closure, a number of uses for the building were proposed. For a time the building was used by various government and community agencies. Concern regarding the future of St. Ann's was raised by several community groups including the St. Ann's Rescue Coalition and the Greater Victoria Concerned Citizens Association.

The Sisters of St. Ann are an active order still residing in Victoria. The Sisters do have a small archives which contains many of the records of St. Ann's Academy.