Society of Friends of St. Ann's Academy Has A New Website:


Starting in 2003 and continuing for a number of years, this was the website for the Society of Friends of St. Ann's Academy. The site has seen several different design iterations.
In 2016 SFSAA sponsored the very first Women in Leadership Conference held in October of that year. The conference has been held annually since then.
The new owner of this domain has chosen to keep the site's content for historical interest and to point visitors to the current website for SFSAA.
Content is from the site's archived pages.

If you have inadvertantly ended up here while looking for the Society of Friends of St. Ann's Academy, their current website is found at:


Society of Friends of St. Ann's Academy
PO Box 9188 - 835 Humboldt St
Victoria BC V8W 9E6
Phone: 250-953-8820


We will honour, celebrate and promote the historical, social and spiritual legacy and traditions of St. Ann’s Academy, Victoria, BC



The story of St. Ann’s Academy is interwoven with the history of British Columbia. In 1857, when gold was discovered along the Fraser River, thousands of men and their families poured into the region through the tiny port of Fort Victoria. Earlier that same year, Roman Catholic Bishop Modeste Demers, whose Episcopal territory stretched from the Rockies to the Pacific and from the Columbia River to the North Pole, had journeyed to Quebec to appeal for help in his missionary work among the Aboriginal peoples, settlers and Hudson’s Bay Company personnel.There he met with the Sisters of St. Ann, a congregation of women religious, dedicated to the education of rural boys and girls at a time of high illiteracy in Quebec. Their foundress was Marie Esther Blondin, who was born in the small rural village of Terrebonne, Quebec, in 1809, became a remarkable teacher and as Mother Mary Ann, had formed a group of 45 Sisters by the time of Demers’ appeal. 

All 45 volunteered to “go west,” but only four could be chosen. All were from Quebec and for them, Canada’s west coast was like a foreign country. The two-month journey took them from Montreal to the Isthmus of Panama, across the Isthmus by train, then by boat to San Francisco and on to Victoria, where they were housed in a log cabin without light, heat or water. But on June 7, 1858, just rwo days after the Sisters’ arrival, classes began, with one end of the cabin serving as a schoolroom during the day. By the end of the first year, 56 pupils of diverse backgrounds had enrolled. 

From this humble beginning, St. Ann’s Academy grew in stages, as demand increased and funds were raised, to become one of the largest, best-equipped educational institutions in the region. For more than 100 years, the Academy was the west coast headquarters of the pioneering Sisters, who provided schooling, nursing services, missionaries and novitiate training for the province and beyond. Though declining enrollment and high operating costs forced them to close the Academy in 1973, the Sisters of St. Ann continue their ministry in education, health care ecumenical and retreat work, and other services to the larger community in which they now reside. 


History of the Society

The Society of Friends of St. Ann’s Academy was formed during the redevelopment and restoration of St. Ann’s Academy that was led by the British Columbia Buildings Corporation in 1995. A small group of St. Ann’s Academy Alumnae met in July 1996 to discuss a general reunion and in the fall, others joined together for presentations and informative talks, the result of which demonstrated the need for involvement in the proposed restoration of St. Ann’s Academy Interpretive Centre, chapel and grounds. A series of gatherings occurred in the homes of keen individuals, who traveled from Salt Spring Island, Shawnigan, Duncan and Bowser to participate. Enthusiasm grew, and at a membership meeting held in February 1997, 50 people began the sign-up of what was eventually to total over 300 members. Members, participants and supporters became known as the “Friends”.

A membership fee was established and in May 1997, and office space, a computer and a telephone were provided for the Society in the Provincial Capital Commission building on Pandora Ave. Shortly thereafter office space was provided on-site.  An effective working relationship then developed with the Provincial Capital Commission Academy Site Advisory Board, stewards of the site. Updates on the restoration of St. Ann’s were provided during a meeting of June 1997 and graduate research students invited participants to submit stories about the Academy for the Interpretive Centre. On July 12, 1997, members provided their assistance for the official re-opening ceremonies on the grounds of St. Ann’s Academy.

At the first Annual General Meeting held on September 20, 1998, an executive was elected for the Society of Friends.  Registered Charity Status was received on October 1, 1998.

Today the current executive and members of the society carry out ongoing work in support of the academy, undertaking advocacy, education and fundraising projects, while melding the values of the past to the present.


Our Founders


Somehow, the four young Sisters from Quebec managed to accommodate both day students and boarders in their log cabin school. Mattresses were laid on the floor at night and rolled up during the day. Cooking proceeded on one side of the chimney while school was conducted on the other, with the children perched on rough boards placed over packing boxes. An early boarding school student, Elizabeth Eddy, who came north from San Francisco with her parents for the Gold Rush of 1858, recalled some fifty years later: 

"I look back and see how hard those four Sisters worked; they sawed the logs with a cross-cut saw, and we children sat on the logs to keep them steady. It was fun for us, but hard work for them."

A year later, two more Sisters arrived from Quebec. They were Sister Mary Bon Secours, a music teacher, and English-speaking Sister Mary Providence, who at the age of 22 was already well qualified to assume the duties of Provincial Superior. Under her leadership, the Sisters' pioneer school expanded, flourished, and earned itself an enviable reputation.

One early student discovered this for herself. Dolly Helmcken, the daughter of Victoria's well-known doctor, completed eight years of classes at St. Ann's and left at the age of 17 planning to go to England for further studies. However, Dr. Helmcken thought it prudent that first she should spend a year being "finished" in Ottawa, to compensate for any gaps left by her pioneer school education in Victoria. But the Ottawa plan was dropped when, after half a year there, Dolly took top honours and wrote to her father that she was wasting her time!

In 1871, construction began on what was to become the centre section of the Academy as we know it today. In his ceremonial address at the laying of the building's corner-stone, Father C. Seghers paid tribute to the Sisters' mission in the west: 

"The building .. .[will be} … devoted to a twofold object – charity and education. It is destined to be a school for the education of young ladies …. There will [also} be in this institution an asylum for fatherless children, for needy orphans. One shudders when thinking of the woeful lot that threatened many a forsaken child in this country had not the good Sisters of Saint Ann taken them under their fostering care and maternal protection."

Our Building


The central section of St. Ann's Academy, constructed in 1871, was the first four-storey masonry building in Victoria. Designed by Joseph Michaud, C.S.v, and built in red brick by Charles Vereydhen, it featured neo-classical detailing such as pilasters, a balustraded parapet and a pedimented gable roof, and was finished with grey, sand-embedded paint to resemble stone.

By 1886, the Academy had expanded again with the "east block," built by John Teague in harmony with the original Michaud scheme. Classically inspired additions included a relocated main entrance with an impressive curved double stair and a pedimented gable pavilion. Tripled in size, the Academy now housed dining rooms, dormitories, recreation rooms, parlours, a music conservatory, library, infirmary, dispensary, classrooms and administrative offices.

The Academy's remarkable Chapel, also added in 1886, was originally built in 1858 by Father Michaud to serve as Victoria's first Roman Catholic Cathedral. Featuririg simple main classical details common among the small parish churches of Quebec, it was constructed of logs and timber from Vancouver Island and redwood from California, with hand-carved ornamentation on ceiling, pillars and altars. Outgrown by its congregation, the little former Cathedral was raised onto log skids, hauled by horses, moved into position over the main kitchen of the Academy and encased in brick. Of particular interest in the Chapel are the original oil paintings behind and beside the main altar, art glass windows dating from 1913, and the magnificent Casavant pipe organ made in 1913 in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec. 

The third and final section of the Academy, "the west wing," was designed and built by Thomas Hooper in 1910. Unlike the earlier sections, Hooper's wing included a fifth storey topped by a mansard roof with dormer windows. This was reminiscent of the Second Empire style, a popular feature of the Church's institutional buildings across Canada late in the 19th century. The combination of architectural styles incorporated into the Academy over its 39-year construction period reflects the influence of Renaissance Revival, Baroque Revival, Second Empire and traditional building practices of rural Quebec. These were common features of convent buildings at the time, both in Quebec and in the newly settled West. St. Ann's Academy is especially notable because it incorporates an historic chapel. One of the oldest religious buildings in British Columbia, the Chapel is, like the structure which houses it, of local, provincial and national significance. 




As a registered non-profit organization, we rely heavily on donations and memberships to continue on in achieving our goals. Membership is open to anyone interested in collaborating with the Friends and the Provincial Government’s National Heritage Site in the ongoing development of the St. Ann’s Academy site, heritage grounds and building, various projects and the Interpretive Centre.

Members elect the Executive Board at the Annual General Meeting, usually held annually in late Spring.

It would be our pleasure to have you join us in caring for this site and developing its potential as a favoured place of locals and visitors alike.

“My child, the more deeply a tree sends its roots into the soil, the more vigourous is its growth!”
(Blessed Marie Anne Blondin, Founder of the Sisters of St. Ann)


  • *NEW* Student Membership FREE
  • Annual Sustaining Membership $20.00 (Canadian)
    • Member receives a tax deductible receipt and a one year subscription to our newsletter “Sequoia”.
  • Annual Sponsoring Membership $100.00 (Canadian)
    • Member receives the same benefits of the sustaining member and is enrolled on the sponsors’ page of the newsletter.
  • Annual Advertising Member $100.00 (Canadian)
    • Member receives a one year subscription and advertising space in “Sequoia” as well as a web-site link.



St. Ann’s Academy National Historic Site has on-going volunteer opportunities, such as:

  • Docent
  • Wedding Volunteer
  • Special Event Volunteer
  • Research Assistant Volunteer
  • School Program Volunteer
  • Collections Management Volunteer

If you would like any information about any of these positions, please contact:

The Society of Friends of St. Ann’s Academy~~Victoria, B.C.




2016 Women and Leadership Conference

Dates: October 13 – 15, 2016 (Thursday evening to Saturday afternoon)
Locations: St. Ann’s Academy and the Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM)
Cost: $60 ($25 low- and no-wage earners)
This conference will be a place of encounter, an opportunity to come together in conversation and explore women’s leadership, activism, and creative ideas and practices in response to the pressing gender and social issues of our time. The conference will include panel discussions with prominent women in the arts, politics, and Indigenous, social and environmental movements. Through their stories, we will learn how they teach, lead and act at times overtly, at other times subversively, but always purposefully and courageously upon the gendered Canadian stage.


Related: This was just a wonderful conference as you will see from the agenda and the descriptions of the workshops. I had traveled to British Columbia with several friends to attend this 2016 Women and Leadership Conference. My best friend was a graduate of St. Anne's and she went on to pass the bar exam in Louisiana and now works for a New Orleans law firm focused on maritime law. She's a brilliant person who taught herself html and helped build the firm's website - check it out. She's the one who turned us onto this amazing event, where we mingled with some amazingly talented women who are themselves leaders teaching leadership skills.

I was especially interested in the realities of gender equality and inequality of today's society. Even though this conference was aimed towards Canadians, I felt I could also adapt their approach using conversations and stories to explore women’s leadership, activism, and creativity here in the US for a class I was planning for the following year at the school where I teach. But this was a superb outing for a bunch of friends who enjoyed the program and the companionship.



Women and Leadership: Radical Conversations on Gender Justice, Art and Reconciliation


Thursday Evening October 13     St. Ann’s Academy Auditorium                                                                      

4:00 – 4:50                Registration

5:00 – 5:30                Opening Remarks:

Welcome to the Territory: May Sam

Welcome and Orientation: Darlene Clover, Conference Co-Chair                                          Logistics/programme and workshops: Colleen Kasting

5:30 – 7:30                Opening Panel:  Reflecting on Gender Justice

Chair:  Robina Thomas                  Director, Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement. School of Social Work, UVic


Maureen Maloney                          School of Public Policy SFU

Merna Forster                              Historian and author

Fay Blaney                                  Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre

Boma Brown                               VI Public Research Group

7:30 – 8:30                Wine and Cheese Reception          St. Ann’s Academy Auditorium    

Friday Morning October 14         St. Ann’s Academy Auditorium


8:00 – 8:30                Coffee and Tea (and Registration)                                                                                 

8:30 – 10:00              Morning Panel: Cultural and Aesthetic Leadership


Chair: Jan Ross                           Curator, Emily Carr House



Paulina Grainger                           Theatre Artist, Inter-Cultural


Sandra Meigs                              Feminist Artist and Fine Arts

Professor, UVic

Jennifer Van de Pol                      Artist and Educator at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

Janet Rogers                               Writer, Radio Host/Producer,

Performance Poet


10:00 – 10:30           BREAK:  Move to workshops or tours

10:30 – 12:40           Art-making Workshops (details on page 5)                             

Breaking form: The ghazal, triolet   Yvonne Bloomer

& sonnet as feminist poetic forms   St. Ann’s Parlour


Puppets for Rule Benders               Julie Gennai

RBCM Exhibits Room (ground       floor)                                     


Showing Disobedience:  A              Lauren Jerke

Theatre Workshop                        St. Ann’s Auditorium stage


The Feisty Women Quilt                 Kristin Miller and Nancy Crozier

RBCM Student Lunch Room

                                                            (ground floor)

Silk Screening Disobedience            Lindsay Delaronde & Naomi Kennedy

RBCM Community Room

                                                            (ground floor)



Conversations with Emily Carr:       Jan Ross

A Unique Tour                              Meet just outside St Ann’sAuditorium


Sisters of St Ann’s Historic Tour      Sisters Mary Ellen King, Sheila Moss

and Frieda Raab

Meet just outside of St. Ann’sAuditorium

Friday Afternoon, October 15St. Ann’s Academy Auditorium

12:50 – 2:00              Box Lunch:                                St. Ann’s Auditorium

Chair: Carmela Vezza                   Conference Co-Chair

                                    Storytelling and Reconciliation     Karen Whetung

 2:15 – 4:45               Workshops Continued Same locations as morning  for full day workshops

Breaking Form

Puppetry for Rule Benders                                                                       Showing Disobedience:  A Theatre Workshop

Silk Screening Disobedience

The Feisty Woman Quilt


Tours and other workshops


Living Languages Exhibition (RBCM) Martha Black  (Note Time: 2:15 to                                                                                         3:35)

Purchase tickets ahead of time       Meet in RBCM Main Room  

Nurturing the Creative Spirit:         Carey Pallister

Sister Artists and their Art.            Meet in RBCM Main Room



Sisters of St Ann’s Historic Tour      Sisters Mary Ellen King, Sheila Moss

and Frieda Raab

Meet outside St Ann’s Auditorium


5:15 – 6:00                Informal reflection and networking time (refreshments in St. Ann’s Auditorium)                                               

6:00 – 7:45             Evening Panel: Warrior Women  St. Ann’s Academy  Auditorium

                                    Chair:  Elizabeth May                    Leader, Green Party of Canada


Jennifer Bennett                           RAdm Canadian Department of                                                                                   National Defence

Vicky Husband                              Environmentalist, Order of Canada

Judith Sayers                               Law & Business Faculty, UVic,

Past Chief Hupacasath First Nation

Charlayne Thornton-Jo                  Activist and Municipal Councillor –

City of Victoria

Saturday Morning October 15   All workshops at RBCM


9:00 -11:45               Workshops


Feminist Museum Hack                  Kim Gough

Purchase ticket ahead of time        Meet in RBCM Foyer


Metissage                                   Catherine Etmanski & Kathy Bishop

RBCM Exhibits Classroom


Word and Image Activist Art          Kimberly Croswell

A Stencilling Workshop                  RBCM Student Lunch Room

Workshops Continued


Pink and Blue:  Navigating and       Julia Norman

Shaping modern society and          RBCM Community Room

Gender equality                           (Note Time: 9:00 – 10:30)



Conversations with Emily Carr:       Jan Ross

A Unique Tour                            207 Government Street

Radical Artist Walk                        Jennifer Van de Pol

Meet at picnic tables by Mungo Martin House


“In Defiance” Photography             Lindsay Delaronde

Exhibition Artist Talk                           Legacy Gallery 630 Yates Street

(Note Time: 10:00 – 11:15)

12:00 – 12:45           Open Lunch (on your own)


Saturday Afternoon October 15

1:00                            Welcome to Mungo Martin House

1:15                            A House Story – Karen Whetung

1:25 – 3:15                Closing Panel: Women in Politics: Feminist Perspectives                  

Chair: Catherine McGregor


Jean Crowder                             MP, NDP (former)

Shirley Ackland                            Mayor, Port McNeil

Carole James                               MLA, NDP

Edith Loring-Kuhanga          School Trustee


3:15 – 4:00                Closing Activities    Iroquois Women Shuffle Dance       Lindsay Delaronde



Workshop Descriptions

Conference Workshop Outlines*

Breaking Form: the ghazal, triolet and sonnet (Yvonne Bloomer) all day Friday as feminist poetic forms                                                                                                

Students will spend the day writing poetry. We will start with warm-up exercises to get the language flowing and build toward writing new poems in the form of ghazals, triolets and sonnets. We will also read examples and explore why and how these forms are feminist and can be used to break with tradition and take on existing forms with new voices and new insights into how constraint (in form) can build freedom in voice.

Conversations with Emily Carr: (Jan Ross)  Friday or Sat. am

Jan will be hosting a ‘salon’ at Emily Carr House with Carr herself as the muse.

Feminist Museum Hack  (Kathy Sanford)   Saturday morning

Consider how the Modern History Gallery at the Royal BC Museum could be changed to include more of a feminist perspective on history. During this workshop you will visit the gallery, identify an area to be “hacked” and then work in small teams to create a temporary installation to address the missing feminist narrative.

Feminist Religious art walk about (Jennifer Van de Pol)  Saturday morning

Join Jennifer for a “radical” walk around downtown Victoria, and learn histories of women who have an impact on our communities. This is an artist-led walk, a creative response to critical gender and social issues of our time. Together, through movement, dialogue and listening, we will explore questions such as how we take up space together in public, as women, have the potential to be activism?

Living Languages (Martha Black)   Friday afternoon

This workshop in the galleries of the Royal BC Museum explores issues of representation and reconciliation in museums by contrasting two iconic installations – Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in British Columbia, which opened in 2014, and the First Peoples gallery, created almost 40 years before.

Metissage (Catherine Etmanski and Kathy Bishop)  Saturday morning

Creating their own métissages, participants will use their own stories and ideas around women in leadership to explore individual and collective themes, and engage in radical conversations for social change.

Pink and Blue: navigating (and shaping!) modern society    Saturday morning

with gender equality  (Julia Norman)    

Explore some of the realities of gender equality and inequality of today’s society here in Canada and around the world through activity based facilitation; Learn how to shape the growth of today’s society in a more just and equitable way.

Puppeteering for Rule Benders (Julie Gennai)    all day Friday

A workshop of radical giant puppetry for women. With simple materials and the labour of many hands, participants will construct and work collectively with a series of oversized puppets.

Showing Disobedience:  A theatre workshop (Lauren Jerke) all day Friday

This workshop will use drama, a historical story about an extraordinary aboriginal woman, and our own experiences to explore what it means to be ‘disobedient’.

Silk Screening Disobedience (Lindsay Delaronde and Naomi Kennedy)     all day Friday

This will be a facilitated silk-screen session. We will screen print power images, symbols and text that represents the major themes of this converence- political, feminist, activist- imagery of dis Obedient woman throughout history. These T-shirts will later be displayed in an exhibition titled “Dis- Obedient Women”.  Delaronde and Kennedy will have all screens prepared and the use of paint and stencil can be added to design a t-shirt.

Sisters’ Art in the Archives (Carey Pallister)   Friday afternoon

Learn about the history and the work of the Sisters of St. Ann through their art over the years

Sisters’ tour  Friday am or pm

Sisters Mary Ellen, Frieda and Sheila are happy to have the opportunity to share a little of the history of the presence of the SSA in the Humboldt area and to boast of the creativity and daring of the Sisters of St. Ann since its foundation in 1850.

The Feisty Women Quilt (Kristin Miller and Nancy Crozier)   all day Friday

The Feisty Women Quilt will portray our favourite activist heroines in a group-made tribute quilt using simple stitching and art techniques. We will put images onto fabric, add text, and embellish with stitches, paint, and markers, then combine our efforts into a quilt celebrating feisty women.

Word & Image Activist Art: a Stencilling workshop   Saturday morning

(Kimberly Croswell)

Decentralized leadership practices are the rock-bed for establishing a shared sense of purpose while inspiring expressive diversity. We will explore these practices. Referencing patriarchy, participants will then be invited to create large-scale cardboard stencils to express support for, or outrage against, an issue.

*Note:  Most workshops will be limited to 20 or fewer people.  Workshop registration will be on first come/first serve basis.