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Interpretive Centre: East Block, 1886

The Red Parlour, or Sisters' Parlour

The Sisters' Parlour or the Red Parlour, was the more formal of the two parlour rooms at the main entrance to the Academy. This room sat to the left, for guests entering the building at the second floor level. Although the Sisters usually met their guests in the other parlour, known as the Pupils' Parlour, this room was sometimes used on more formal occasions; if there were important figures from the Church, government or the community, they were escorted into this room.

Guest Register, 1901 Guest Register, 1901

A special Guest Book was kept by the Sisters, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, to record these visitors. A formal record of the arrival of anyone who was not a student or staff member at the Academy was made in the reports of the Convent administration, but this book was used as a souvenir. Sister Osithe and other teachers involved with the art department would prepare a page with paintings of a nation's flag, flowers or other appropriate designs, and the guests would sign their names, sometimes with a poem, or a drawing of their own.

The decor of the parlour was dark, with upholstered chairs, an old carpet, and heavy draperies at the windows. Wallpaper was used on the walls, and crocheted doilies were placed around the room, on the velvet furniture 'like in an old family parlour'. A chair with carved dog's heads for arms was the special favourite of the brother of one of the students, who was allowed to sit and stroke their wooden heads while his mother and sister spoke with one of the Sisters. Book shelves completed the furniture of the room. One of the Sisters who had been a student at St. Ann's, was in awe of the parlour with the hard chairs, made so "uncomfortable so you would be formal." Some of this furniture can still be found in the possession of the Sisters of St. Ann in Victoria.

Sisters', or Red Parlour Sisters', or Red Parlour

Many visitors came to view the paintings hung on the parlour walls. Several had plaques to show that they were a donation or in memory of someone. A crayon sketch of two Sisters of St. Ann, standing on the Ogden Point Breakwater in Victoria, as they watched a boat with their fellow Sisters depart for a mission in Japan in 1934, hung amongst them. This was the work of Sister Osithe, whose copy of Murillo's "The Immaculate Conception" was also placed in this room. One of the Sisters remembers, "I used to go in there as a girl and just ponder and wonder." It was something that many girls did, enchanted by the great size of the work and the subject matter of the Virgin Mary. Reverend J.H. MacDonald wrote after Sister Osithe's death that the artist "must have meditated long and prayerfully on the Mother of God [The Virgin Mary] and of the Saints, to express them so perfectly in her paintings." (from the Necrology of the Sisters of Saint Ann, 1938-1943) The painting gave the parlour a religious feeling, which has returned with the recent addition of a full-scale picgraphic reproduction of the "The Immaculate Conception", as part of the restoration.

These sombre feelings were appropriate to the other use of the room, which was to lay out Sisters who had passed away, before the funeral services in the chapel. Although another Sister was required to remain with the body during this time, they were sometimes called away, briefly, for an important reason. More than one curious student was given a scare, as they peeked into the Red Parlour at the unexpected sight of a coffin.

Light fixture Light fixture
(click to view large image)

When the historic restoration of this room began, it was the job of the painters to study the woodwork. They needed to be able to reproduce the texture of the painted wood grain, which was originally used to give the inexpensive wood trim in the parlours and entrance area the appearance of oak. Dan Evans, the foreman from Canadian Paint and Paper, took courses in Vancouver to acquire knowledge of the woodgraining techniques. Brushes, special woodgraining tools and metal combs were used in this craft, to layer colour. Including the other areas of the Interpretive Centre, almost 400 square metres of grained wood trim and panelling were carefully restored. The painters felt that the painting technique itself was not a challenge, but that replicating the brush strokes of the historic painters was very difficult. Dan thought that by "trying to get into the heads of the guys who did it originally", he would be able to capture their woodgraining style.

Interpretive Centre during renovation Interpretive Centre
during renovation
(click to view large image)

The plaster ceiling in the Red Parlour had suffered damage from the years that St. Ann's experienced neglect, after the closure of the school. The building had also shifted over the years, warping the shape of the walls and ceiling. The central medallions, which were the mouldings around the light fixture, and the floral work in the shape of dogwood flowers, were broken, had missing pieces and were water damaged. The plasterers made rubber moulds of the plaster decorations and replicated pieces to repair the damaged areas. This was a job where modern tools were utilized in a traditional craft; not many people still do plaster work in modern buildings. Other differences between the traditional and restored plaster work included the rubber moulds to shape the decorative pieces, instead of gelatine moulds. Lime and plaster of Paris were used to attach plaster work to the ceiling.

The walls of the parlour were also re-coated in plaster, which was given an unpolished finish, according to the instructions of the architect. Plastered walls are usually given a high polish. This material was fireproofed for the 1990s restoration, another consideration of modern building codes.

This room has been used by many people, for many diverse purposes. When the Academy closed and it was no longer a formal parlour, it became a board room, for the meetings of the Provincial Capital Commission. It has been used as a set, for the filming of cinematic productions. Currently, it is open to visitors to the Interpretive Centre at St. Ann's Academy. Guests can sit quietly, gazing at the paintings, or, during the Christmas Season, they can sip hot cider after choir concerts in the chapel and leave gifts for children in need, under the Christmas tree. This parlour enjoys its modern uses!