The orchard covered most of the east side of the grounds. This area was usually restricted to the Sisters. Students playing in the baseball diamond or training for track and field, or helping to harvest the fruit were the exception. The Novices, usually restricted to their own small gardens, were also known to stroll up Ash Can Lane, between the apple trees. The apple, plum, pear and cherry trees may have been planted by the homesteaders who lived on the land. The first apples on Vancouver Island came with the Hudson's Bay Company, and later varieties were brought via San Francisco; it is not likely that the Sisters brought any varieties with them from Quebec. The species of apples were identified with glamorous names such as Gravenstein, Canada Red, King of Tompkin's County, Gloria Monday and the familiar (but tasty) Yellow Transparent.
The Sisters made use of the fruit, using it to feed the residents of the Academy. This east end of the grounds was devoted to the practical needs of the Convent, including growing food and raising chickens and cattle. These animals, along with a horse they named Charlie, lived on the property until a city ordinance, passed in 1912, forced them to sell off (or eat) their livestock. The north east corner was planted as a vegetable garden, with potatoes and onions, and grain was cultivated on this side of the property for a time. During the war, wartime gardening involved the students with the cultivation of food in areas not already in use. The girls were instructed in simple gardening skills, in order to help with the shortage of food.
During the 1950s, an elderly Sister tended the gardens. She would work all day, looking after the plants and trees, until, exhausted, she would come in to pray in the chapel. She would be so tired from her work outside that she would fall asleep in the warm chapel. The other Sisters would hear her snoring, as they prayed.
There were strict rules about students taking fruit from the orchards, even in the 1960s and 70s. One student was caught stealing apples as a child. The memory of that fruit stayed with her until she became an adult. Visiting with some old classmates, at a graduation reunion, she decided to return to the orchard to see if she could finally get some apples, after all those years. Just as she climbed the tree, a mounted police officer, patrolling the area, strolled down the path to see a grown woman stealing apples from a tree at St. Ann's Academy late at night! She thought she was about to get in trouble all over again! Although the trees in the orchard section of the grounds are now quite old, they still produce fruit so irresistible that people return after 20 years to try to taste it.
A baseball diamond was set up in the northeast corner of the orchard. Baseball was a game that the Sisters and students alike loved to play. Proof of how many girls ran out to play rests on a tree branch. "There was one apple tree near the top of the orchard, where there was a pathway ... and everybody who came through the pathway paused at the tree and swung on the branch -it was like a gymnastics bar. We wore the bark right off. It was smooth as a metal pole." (C. Graves (Manthorpe), student 1967-73)
The B.C. Fruit Testers Association undertook the documentation of these heritage fruit trees. Members have been acting as consultants to try to bring the trees back to health. Many in the orchard are 100 years old and still producing fruit when the commercial life span for fruit trees is somewhere around 20 years. They have begun to cultivate cuttings, so that they will be able to replace any of these rare heritage trees that die off, but there are no plans to extend the orchard rows, due to the different watering needs of old and young trees.
In 1913, a greenhouse was placed within the orchard, perpendicular to the Convent section of the Academy building. This structure was given to the Sisters as a gift, in memory of a former student. Mr. Quagliotti presented the building and its contents to St. Ann's on behalf of his late wife, and it came to provide them with wonderful hot-house products. A laundry was located on the southeast perimeter. Designed in 1896, this brick building was the work of noted Victoria architect Samuel Maclure.