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Academy Green

Gate and entrance Father Vullinghs

St. Ann's Academy sits on a 6 1/4 acre piece of property, which once surrounded the log home that became the pioneer schoolhouse in 1858. Through donations and purchases, the Sisters eventually acquired 22 lots. Much of the grounds, particularly on the west side, was wet and rocky, but loads of fill were dumped from local construction sites to build up the ground level, in the area of the Green and the Arboretum. In 1911, Father Adrian Vullinghs, while a patient in St. Joseph's Hospital across the street from the Academy, conceived a plan to create formal, landscaped grounds for St. Ann's and suggested his designs to the gardener, Sister Mary Colette.

Born in the Netherlands and educated in Belgium, Vullinghs was a priest by vocation. His interest in the outdoors led to his design for the garden of the Church of Our Lady of Assumption, in Saanich. He was present with the workmen to share the expertise he had gained over 16 years of working with the trees and shrubberies in his own garden.

Sister reading before tennis courts, 1962 Sister reading before tennis courts, 1962
Rose Arbour, 1961 Rose Arbour, 1961
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"What was the potato field has been terraced in four parts. The farthest from the house is a favourite resting place for the pupils; the second is a croquet lawn; the third is a tennis court and then comes the grove, which is covered with crushed stone instead of grass." (excerpt from early chronicles, Victoria Sisters of St. Ann, , as quoted in 5 Year Plan) These words of an observer from 1912 reveal the divisions of the Green into areas intended for specific uses. Croquet fell out of fashion in later years, but the grass tennis lawn was enjoyed by Sisters and students alike. In 1928, courts were laid out for the game; they were enlarged in 1933 to accommodate two sets of players and improved again in 1959, eventually including fencing to keep the ball from flying off into the bushes.

During the spring, crocuses, in white and purple, and yellow daffodils would bloom on the Green, and the girls would begin to ride their bicycles. These bikes were stored, at least temporarily, in the simple bicycle shelter that was erected at the south end of the green, in front of the tennis terrace. Wooden slots were arranged around the perimeter of the shelter, so the front tires could be held in place as the bicycles parked in a circle. The Sisters would tend the blooms in the rose arbour, a place of beauty and a stark contrast to the potato fields that had grown before.

Not all of the landscaping was as rustic as wildflowers and wooden shelters. The formal gardens, including the Green, were based on features of Italian and French landscaping. Dividing the grounds into distinct sections, separating these spaces with bushes and shrubs and carefully spacing the trees and flowers were all approaches used in the long tradition of formal European gardens. The small structures, such as the bicycle shed, that were constructed along the paths and the terraced lawns were features used at the great French palace at Versailles, where Louis the Sun King was himself in charge of the landscaping during the 1600s. It is interesting that this would tie in so closely with the French influences in the architecture of the Academy buildings. This stylistic relationship changed: the sheds were demolished, the paths grew over, the Green terraces were converted and there was a greater distinction between the Formal Garden spaces and the open landscaping with the maturation of the trees.

Bike Shed Bike Shed

As St. Joseph's Hospital began to grow, parking was required for staff and visitors. Cars began to park across the street, at St. Ann's, in the area where the tennis courts had been. In 1972, St. Ann's Academy, attempting to cope with the high costs of running a school without government funding, and with a vast amount of property to tend, sold a large portion of the grounds to the Provincial Government. The length of the Green, where girls had once run and enjoyed their games, became space for roughly 150 vehicles. The restoration efforts converted the Green into an open, grassy lawn.