THE HISTORY OF NOTRE DAME CONVENT
The main Notre Dame building was constructed in 1857. The main building is a 4-story brick building that overlooks the Hillsborough Square. In 1854, a Charlottetown business man by the name of Daniel Brennan donated two lots of land located on the corner of Weymouth and Sydney Street to the Sisters of the Notre Dame Convent in Montreal. This block of land contained one building which was converted to a school by the sister of Notre Dame. In 1854, within 4 months of the sisters’ arrival from Montreal, the building was ready to serve as an educational institution, called the St. Anne’s school, later to be known as the Notre Dame Convent. In 1857, a new 5 story building replaced the existing structure.
In 1911, a new addition was added to the Main building, referred to today as the Chapel.
During the early 1970’s the educational system on PEI was totally restructured. The smaller country schools were consolidated into centralized elementary schools within core communities. New high schools were constructed. Classes at the Notre Dame ceased to exist in 1971.
After the closure of the school, the property became a retreat for the nuns. Eventually part of the building became a nursing home for the aging sisters.
In October of 2011, a decision was made to close the convent. At that time, this building was home to 26 nuns. By the end of 2013, the doors of the building were closed and the property was placed on the real estate market in the winter of 2014.
There are times in life when you look at something that just seems to bring you to a standstill. You observe, you wonder, you consider, you revisit, you explore, and from there you either walk away or you pursue the possibilities.
The brick property known as the Notre Dame Convent located at 246 Sydney Street in Charlottetown was constructed in 1857 to function as a private school for young girls of different denominations under the leadership and direction of the Sisters of the Notre Dame. As the enrollment increased the demand for a larger facility became apparent. In 1911, an addition was added to the “Main” building that was in future years to be known as the 1911 Chapel. Parts of the 1911 Chapel were constructed from timbers that were contained in the original building located on the corner of Sydney and Weymouth. The 1911 building served as the chapel, the music room and the third floor became home for many students who were residents during the school year.
In 1971, our Island Schools consolidated and new schools were constructed throughout the rural regions of PEI. Because of these changes, the Notre Dame Academy that served as an educational institution for close to 120 years, closed its doors. During the next 40 years, the building became the home for many retired sisters also opening its doors to various groups and associations to generate revenue. In 2014, a decision was reached to sell the property and this is where my story begins.
The thing that intrigued me most standing on the sidewalk and looking at the property was how timeless the building was. The lines were simple and clean. Masked behind tall maple trees, it was almost an unknown property to many people. It was known as a Charlottetown landmark, but so often little attention was offered to this property. From the exterior, the building stood tall and seemed to be very solid and well attended to but offered no signs of life.
Once inside the building I was amazed at how the sisters had respected and maintained the property. The building inside was as original as the day it was built. Inside the building was supported by structural walls that created 8 foot hallways on four levels of the Main building. Hardwood flooring, detailed stairways, solid wooden doors, detailed window and door trim defined the interior features. What once served as an open gymnasium on the fourth floor was converted to 20 nursing bed units along with the second and third floors. The first floor of the Main contained administrative offices and Livingroom facilities. The lower level still carried on as the kitchen, dining, laundry, mechanical and storage areas. The 1911 building still provided Sunday church. We wanted to develop an understanding, an appreciation and respect for what this property stood for. Whatever direction we were to take, it was necessary to create a harmony between the past and the future vision we were to develop for this property. More importantly we had to gain an understanding of what the city would consent too due to the historical significance of the property. The property being Located in a residential neighbourhood created a need for us to develop a plan that would respect the property and offer no threat to our new neighbours as well as live within the zoning bylaws. It was a process that took much more time than we ever expected but we had the sisters on our side and that gave us plenty of confidence to pursue our dream.
We developed several different business plans from a student residence, nursing home, condo units, and apartment complex. Our choice in the end and the approval we received from the city was for a 18 room boutique hotel and 22 apartment suites. The apartment suites would be rented out during the summer months and then convert to long term rental units during the off season. The hotel and the apartment suites would be of a Five Star calibre.
Based on our belief, we wanted to create a property that reflected an appreciation and respect for our environment. As a result, we carried out a retrofit that allowed us to remove most of the old plaster and insulate the building. We installed all new air to air heat pump systems that provide all units to be air conditioned during the summer months. We removed most of the vinyl windows and installed local wooden windows, we rewired the whole structure, we saved as much of the original wood work and replicated the short fall, we worked within the structural walls of the original footprint to create our finished product. We have created rooms and suites that have custom made furniture, marble bathrooms, custom kitchens, custom drapery, designer fixtures, wool carpets, and other details we felt were essential.
We brought this property forward to the 21st century and yet retained the historical significance of the property. We created a whole new life and purpose for this property. Today it remains a landmark of the city but holds a reflection of what we stand for, provides an insight of our respect for the property and the passion we are willing to share with our guests. We are proud of our achievements and are excited for the opportunity that lies ahead.