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School Life

Annie O'Sullivan, one of St. Ann's first Graduates Annie O'Sullivan, one of St. Ann's first Graduates
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St. Ann's Academy Art Class, c. 1911 St. Ann's Academy Art Class, c. 1911
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"Reading, Writing, Arithmetic practical and rational, Book Keeping, Geography, Grammar, Rhetoric, History, Natural History, English, French, plain and ornamental Needle and Net work in all their different shapes, will form the course of studies..." This was the list provided in the first school calendar or prospectus, which informed parents of the education their children would receive. The Sisters brought the curriculum of Quebec with them in the 1850s, but they adopted the programme of the new province of British Columbia, when it was established. In 1859, Public Oral Examinations were instituted, and the public could come to watch as the children, likely terrified, were tested. By 1904, Provincial Examinations were written by the upper grades, looking towards graduation.

Religious Instruction at the Academy was an important aspect of education. Pupils of any denomination were received. The non-Catholic children had the option of taking a study period while the catechism was taught, but many were curious, and stayed in the room to listen. For many years, this line appeared in the school prospectus: "No undue influence is exercised over the religious opinion of non-Catholics ... Catholic pupils receive daily instruction in the principles of their religion."

Painted Vase with Daffodil Design Painted Vase with Daffodil Design
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The prospectus from 1911 reveals that the art department’s goals changed little over the years. The entry begins: "The Academy furnishes every facility for the study of Art in its various branches. Well-lighted studios are supplied with a fine collection of casts from antique as well as modern figures and grouping. Many choice pieces of value for the study of life are also found." The entry goes on to discuss the instruction, which consisted of "Drawing from the antique, Drawing from life, Painting from still life and Perspective and art composition."

Sister Osithe’s skill and enthusiasm for china painting enhanced the equipment and knowledge in the department, as well as the number of adult pupils from the Victoria community who paid for art classes outside of school hours. The prospectus claims that "instructions are given in decorative art work, such as china, and the firing of the latter is done weekly, both for actual students and for amateur artists not attending the academy." The paints came in glass bottles, powdered into a light coloured dust. Much of the skill lay in understanding how this special paint would become vibrant, shining colour once the china had been fired at high temperatures.


Campfire Choir Festival Cup, 1934 Campfire Choir Festival Cup, 1934
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Scale Scale
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A student once remarked that she thought all the Sisters at St. Ann’s could sing, and she was not far off. Music had a special place in the daily routine of the Sisters and their students. There was at least one-half hour of singing every day, with special songs for holy days. Trained organists would be brought in to play in the chapel, and Gregorian chants were performed by special visitors, while the Novices were often called upon to use their voices. Sister Mary Noreen’s choir began a unique programme, unusual for schools at the time, where a choir of 12 girls would record songs for play on CJVI, a local radio station, each week. In 1934, the St. Ann’s girls won a prize for their singing and took the Festival Cup for the Campfire Choir.

In 1930, the school prospectus stated, "Students of the pianoforte are prepared either for the 'Toronto Conservatory' or 'The Associated Board of the Royal Academy', London, England. Terms per month $6.00, use of the pianoforte for daily practice $2.00 extra." The fees increased, but the participation in the Conservatory system did not. Medals, and later pins, were given out for accomplishments, and serious students were known to practice three hours a day.


The Sisters encouraged the girls to explore the sciences, in times when women were directed away from such pursuits. They made a point of involving the girls in chemistry labs. Botany was taught in the abundant gardens. Biology was also offered. One Sister was attempting to teach the concept of "exosmosis" to her class one day, for which she needed to give a demonstration with materials she didn’t have. She mentioned that a pig’s bladder would have worked, mostly as a joke, as she didn’t think one would be available. On Friday afternoon, a girl came to class with a brown paper bag, with a pig’s bladder inside. The Sister thanked the student and put the package into her desk, forgetting it over the weekend. No one could figure out what the horrible, rotten smell was in the classroom on Monday morning!