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St. Ann's history passes to museum's hands

Mar 22 2012
A collection of more than one million archival records from the Sisters of St. Ann - including photographs, artifacts and art dating back to 1858 - will be housed in the Royal B.C. Museum. 

A collection of more than one million archival records from the Sisters of St. Ann - including photographs, artifacts and art dating back to 1858 - will be housed in the Royal B.C. Museum.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , timescolonist.com (March 2012)

The Sisters of St. Ann have agreed to put their history in the hands of the Royal B.C. Museum, passing along an impressive collection of more than one million archival records that include more than 100,000 photographs, 1,000 artifacts and 500 pieces of art.

"Together, they form a vital historical record of our province, and it dates back to 1858," said museum CEO Pauline Rafferty. "It's the largest private collection and the first religious archives that the Royal B.C. Museum will house.

"It will really enrich the Royal B.C. Museum collection and it will be accessible to everyone."

Hand-carved rosaries and other religious objects, vintage textiles, letters and a Victorianera autograph book owned by Edith Helmcken are some of the items in the wide-ranging collection.

The Sisters, a Roman Catholic order of nuns, donated their vintage schoolhouse to the museum in 1974. Wednesday's announcement of the archival agreement was made in the heritage structure.

Sister Marie Zarowny, provincial leader of the order, said the scope of the collection going to the museum is a tribute to the many people through the years who understood the importance of preserving the past.

"Who we are as cultures, nations, organizations or families is shaped by our shared history," Zarowny said. "A sense of identity, so needed in our world today, is developed by recalling and reflecting on our history.

"This history reminds us of values we continue to cherish, and the multiple ways those values can be expressed."

Zarowny said the preserved records show not only the lives of the Sisters through the order's 154 years in B.C., "but also the life, politics, economy and social experience of the communities of which we were an integral part."

That community involvement in Victoria included working to establish the city's first hospital, St. Joseph's, in 1876. All told, the Sisters opened nine hospitals and 13 regular schools, along with a nursing school in Victoria.

Zarowny said she knows the materials going to the museum will be in good hands.

"We are entrusting you with what to us is a sacred record of our individual and collective lives, not just in the past but including the present and the future. We know that you will honour this trust as you continue to preserve the holdings and make them available to the public far beyond the expiry of this agreement."

The agreement calls for the Sisters to pay for maintaining the archives - including providing their own archivists to work with museum staff - until 2027.

The relocation of the collection will take place in 2013.

Another significant donation by the Sisters was made in December when a collection of 18 paintings - including an original Emily Carr - was transferred to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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