In 1857, Bishop Modeste Demers, Bishop of the Diocese of Victoria between 1847 and 1871, went on an extended journey in search of an order of teaching Sisters to establish a mission in Victoria. Vaudreuil, Quebec’s Institute of the Sisters of Saint Ann had been canonically established in 1850 and had been considering taking on such a role since 1851. A young order, the sisters were not involved with setting up schools in other parts of the world and readily accepted Bishop Demers’ invitation to come to Vancouver Island.
Religious and cultural pioneers
The Original Four Sisters of St. Ann
The original school
It is said that every single member of the Sisters of Saint Ann willingly volunteered to make the journey and endure the hardships that would surely be in store for them in the Vancouver Island Colony, but only four Sisters and one lay woman who later became Sister Mary des Sept Douleurs were chosen for the mission. They set off from Canada West* for the West on April 14th, 1858. The journey to Victoria involved a boat from Montreal, a train from New York, then a voyage aboard the S.S. Philadelphia to make connection with their rail crossing of the Isthmus of Panama. From there the Sisters embarked upon yet another steamer to San Francisco. Another sea voyage took them to Portland, Oregon where they boarded S.S. Seabird, arriving at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Victoria in late in 1858.
Today’s St. Ann’s
The women were shown to the log cabin that was to be their home and school, on a piece of land which remains as part of the grounds of the Royal British Columbia Museum. Mrs. Reed, a local woman, came with water, coal and wood, while the Sisters prepared for their first night, hanging their aprons in the windows in lieu of curtains. S. Ann’s school opened on Monday, June 7, with twelve children registered.
* Canada West: The Province of Canada was created by the 1841 Act of Union. The Province was subdivided into Canada West and Canada East. The former name of “Lower Canada” came back into official use in 1849, and as of the Canadian Confederation of 1867, formed the newly created province of Quebec.