Brodick Stewart takes a ride on therapeutic riding horse Phats. (Lisa Pink photo)

Sisters continue to be vital part of Therapeutic Riding

The CTRA grew to become a nationally-renowned equine assisted therapy organization

By Anne Muir

The Sisters of St. Ann played an important role in the history of the Cowichan Valley and B.C.

The congregation was founded in 1850 by Blessed Marie Anne Blondin in Vaudreuil, Quebec, and has served the Pacific Northwest since 1858. In 1864, the Sisters purchased 400 acres near Duncan, now known as Providence Farm.

The property was settled in 1867 and used primarily as a boarding and day school until 1964. The farm owes its name to one of these “pioneer” nuns, Sister Mary Providence.

In 1979, the Sisters played an integral role in the formation of the Vancouver Island Providence Community Association (VIPCA), an organization serving adults with developmental and age-related special needs.

Under the stewardship of this new initiative, Providence Farm became a secular therapeutic hub in the Cowichan Valley, home to several organizations including the Cowichan Folk Guild, School District 79’s Alternate School, and the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association (CTRA). In 2009, ownership of Providence Farm was officially transferred to VIPCA, to mark the organization’s 30th anniversary.

The CTRA was one of the first external organizations invited to become a tenant and community partner on Providence Farm. CTRA moved to the property in the late 1980s, and together with VIPCA (and thanks to the support of many contributors) built the Providence Farm Therapeutic Riding Centre. CTRA still operates out of this facility, working in symbiosis with the farm’s programs and other tenant organizations.

From humble beginnings, the CTRA grew to become a nationally-renowned equine assisted therapy organization recognized as an examination and training centre by the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association.

CTRA is the only centre in Western Canada to hold this level of accreditation. These days, CTRA welcomes more than 100 participants with a wide range of special needs every week, running some 3,500 hours of therapeutic service every year.

Ever since CTRA first arrived on Providence Farm, the Sisters have contributed to the organization in one way or another. In recent years, the Sisters have continued their support through financial contributions to projects and programs.

In 2015, the Sisters helped CTRA complete their new outdoor riding arena — significantly enhancing the organization’s ability to keep pace with a growing user population. Since 2017, the Sisters have made annual grants to CTRA through the Esther’s Dream Fund (held by the Victoria Foundation). In 2018, the Sisters donated $12,000 to CTRA. These yearly contributions support CTRA’s equine-assisted therapeutic services and are essential to keeping CTRA’s services accessible for individuals and families with special needs.

“We are honoured to continue our partnership with the Sisters of St. Ann,” says Anne Muir, executive director for CTRA. “The Sisters have played a huge role in helping CTRA become the organization we are today.”

Sister Pat Donovan, vice president with the Sisters of St. Ann, says, “The Sisters believe that each person has the dignity of a child of God and deserves to have the opportunity to develop to her/his full potential. These same motivations impel the Sisters of Saint Ann today to provide resources to help individuals to attain the fullness of life and foster communities that support the dignity of all persons. The Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association enhances the lives of children and adults who are especially vulnerable.”

The Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association is open to the community daily. The public is encouraged to visit the facility, meet the horses, and check out the association — along with all the other programs and organizations that call Providence Farm home. Walking tour signs are placed throughout the farm’s grounds to help visitors make the connections between past and present, and better understand the Sisters of St. Ann’s legacy in our community.

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