Sisters of St. Ann (SSA)

Sisters of St. Ann turn to province to preserve history

By  Nathan Rumohr, Canadian Catholic News
  • April 17, 2012

VICTORIA, B.C. - After more than 150 years serving the people of British Columbia, the Sisters of St. Ann (SSA) have a lot of history.

Now the sisters are entrusting their entire historical collection of artifacts to the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria. The world famous museum will keep the collection alive for many future generations to view.

More than 100,000 photographs, 500 pieces of art, a million archival records and 1,000 artifacts chronicling the sisters’ pioneering experience in British Columbia will be handed over in early 2013.

“We, the Sisters of St. Ann in the Pacific Northwest, and in particular in British Columbia, are fortunate to have meticulously kept records that document our life and activities since 1858,” said Sr. Marie Zarowny, SSA province leader.

“We did so for their historic, artistic and educational value as well as to honour the sisters and all those who worked with us. These records show not only the life and works of the sisters throughout 154 years but also the life, politics, economy and social experience of the communities of which we were an integral part.”

“We are extremely pleased to work with the Sisters of St. Ann to provide a new permanent home for their important artifacts and records,” said Pauline Rafferty, CEO of the Royal B.C. Museum. “This ensures they are preserved and accessible for the future.”

Rafferty said the sisters had an enormous impact on B.C.’s history.

“This collection offers true insight into the early days of the province.”

The Sisters of St. Ann came to Victoria in 1850 at the request of Bishop Modeste Demers, OMI. The bishop had little help with his newly appointed see, which extended from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Arctic.

Demers went to Montreal to seek help and brought the sisters to Victoria in June 1858. They began work almost immediately, opening a school inside their first home, a rundown log cabin.

More sisters arrived from Quebec in 1859 and 1863. Soon their mission expanded further up Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and Alaska. The sisters were instrumental in education and health care in early B.C. life.

They ministered to the native people, pioneers, fur traders and miners throughout the province. They also established Little Flower Academy in Vancouver in 1927.

In the latter half of the 19th century, the sisters established Saint Ann’s Academy. This served as an administration centre for the sisters in the west, a boarding school, a novitiate and an infirmary. The academy closed in the 1970s after a steady decline in SSA membership.

“We will be unable to continue in the future with our increasing age and decreasing numbers,” Zarowny said.

“With the dismantling of our museum at St. Ann’s Academy and the eventual distribution of other items of historical interest, a close relationship was developed between Sr. Frieda Raab, superior of St. Ann’s and the Royal B.C. Museum at the time of the academy’s closure.”

The two institutions worked well together. Zarowny said she trusts the staff of the museum.

“When we were considering a future home for our archives, turning to the B.C. Archives was a natural outcome of decades of mutually respectful relationships,” she said.

To ensure proper care of their artifacts, the Sisters of St. Ann will keep their archivist, Mickey King, on the payroll at the Royal B.C. Museum.

“Our archives are active, with regular deposits and retrieval of information as we continue to function as a Sisters of St. Ann province,” Zarowny said.

“It is for this reason that our agreement is so unique, including the continuing employment of an SSA archivist who is familiar with our holdings, needs, policies and procedures.”

She also stressed that the order’s standards must be upheld for the order’s congregation located in Quebec.

“The congregation needs to be assured that this repository is preserved in a way that meets the highest standards and continues to be accessible to the congregation. We are grateful to our congregation’s leadership, who have worked with and supported us in this unique undertaking,” said Zarowny.

The relationship between the museum and sisters only pertains to archiving the SSA history, and there are no plans to put items on exhibit.

However, Zarowny said, SSA art will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in 2013.

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