Heritage Register

840 Humboldt Street
St Joseph's Hospital

Built 1908
Heritage-Designated 2001

For: Sisters of St. Ann

Architects: Hooper & Watkins

850 Humboldt


Facing St Ann’s, the Edwardian Classical style of the 4-storey grey brick building of St. Joseph’s forms a fitting companion. The central entrance pavilion has a porch with large Ionic columns with a balustrade above. Leaded bevelled glass is used in the entrance doors, sidelights and transoms. These large columns are repeated higher up, forming sun porches (now glazed) and capped with a pediment and an open octagonal spire topped with a cross.

The wings on either side are made up of angled bay windows between double height pilasters. There is a prominent dentil course and modillions at the eaves. Rusticated dressed granite is used for the basement with brick above and contrasting window trim, column bases and capitals. The front lawn is defined by a rubble stone retaining wall.


The four Sisters of St Ann who arrived in 1858 to open a school (835 Humboldt St), also cared for sick and dying. The following year Mother Mary Providence arrived; at the young age of 22, she became superior of the order in Victoria. The sisters managed their nursing work without a hospital for some years until Mother Mary Providence and Dr John Helmcken persuaded Archbishop Charles Seghers that one was urgently needed.

The foundation stone for a 2-storey brick building was laid by Dr Helmcken on August 21, 1875 and the hospital opened the following year. The building cost $13,900 and it had 35 patient beds. The first emergency patient was a Chinese man working on the hospital site who was brought in for treatment while the opening ceremonies were still in progress. Drs John Helmcken and James Trimble were the first house doctors with Dr John Ash as visiting physician. A third storey was added in 1884 with an operating room and laundry. Further expansions in 1889 and 1897 brought the bed total to 150. In 1899 the St. Joseph’s School of Nursing opened.

In 1908 the current building was constructed, facing Humboldt St and directly across the street from the main entrance to St. Ann’s. Architects Hooper and Watkins designed it to complement St. Ann’s projecting entrance pavilion and tower. The impressive 4-storey brick building included some private rooms, a sunroom on each floor and a chapel that is now regarded as a small architectural gem. The opening ceremonies on Saturday, October 3, 1908, were attended by BC Premier Sir Richard McBride, Dr J.S. Helmcken, his son Dr J.D. Helmcken and the Mother-General of the Order of St Ann’s, the Very Rev. Sister Mary Anastasia, who came from Montreal for the ceremony.

A major expansion, begun in 1949, required the demolition of the original 1876 building.


The Sisters of St Ann transferred ownership of the hospital to the province in the late 1960s and it became Victoria General Hospital. By the mid-1980s Victoria General Hospital had re-located to View Royal, to serve a growing regional population. 850 Humboldt was re-named Fairfield Health Centre for geriatric care, but many of the buildings in the complex ringed by Humboldt, Quadra, Blanshard Sts and Fairfield Rd were empty.

In 1985 the Hallmark Society of Victoria protested a plan to install aluminum windows in the 1908 building. There was no heritage designation on the building at this time. This was requested by Hallmark in 1989, noting especially the chapel and its stained glass. The 1908 building was given heritage designation in 2000 and therefore was not demolished along with all the other buildings of the complex. A rezoning proposal at this time included restoration of the 1908 building, including the chapel, and re-building of the heritage garden at the Humboldt and Quadra Sts corner. The new Mount St Mary nursing home and new residential buildings planned for the huge site were to be of “sympathetic” design. Some artifacts from the hospital were to be retained and displayed in the restored 1908 building.

In 2001 the building was sold to a developer who planned a boutique-style hotel. However, this did not happen and the restored building has since been converted into low-income housing, named St. Joseph Apartments.


• Statement of Significance (Canadian Register of Historic Places)

• GIS Map of Victoria's Heritage Register Properties

• Fairfield History

• Fairfield Heritage Register

• This Old House, Victoria's Heritage Neighbourhoods,
Volume Four: Fairfield, Gonzales & Jubilee

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