“All for Each and Each for all, should be the motto that we try to live up to”
— Gordon Head Athletic Club Minutes July 25 1916
In the early years of the 20th century, Gordon Head, Saanich was synonymous with strawberries and its daffodils. The area, now covered by an extensive housing development and the University of Victoria campus, was once open fields of fruit and bulbs stretching down towards the ocean. While the Gordon Head residents worked hard on their farms, they also played hard — football, tennis, swimming were the order of the day in their off hours. The focal point for recreation and social gatherings was the Gordon Head Athletic Club.
During World War One, many male residents of Gordon Head went to do their bit overseas. Life carried on at home for Gordon Head Athletic Club members. The Club’s minutes shed light on the patriotic response of a small rural community organization in the war years.
September 1916 – tennis tournament and dinner
On a Saturday in late September 1916, the Gordon Head Athletic Club held its end-of-tennis season tournament. Matches were played on the club courts at the public school grounds under perfect weather conditions. Fortunately the weather was dry. The courts had only been made that year from compressed soil. Earlier that summer, the wet weather had created mucky conditions when “rolling” the court! At the close of play all adjourned to the Gordon Head Hall where the ladies had arranged a simple supper. The tables were decorated with great taste with the colours of the club (purple and white).
There had been some discussion about this supper. The minutes for September 19 1916 record a meeting of the Club’s ladies “…regarding a supper to be held on the day of the tennis tournament. The secretary said that if we had a supper she would like it to be a really nice spread or a hard times supper in either case we might make a charge and should we decide upon a nice supper then she had the promise of six chickens for same. Miss Watson was first to speak and she endorsed the idea of a nice supper to be given by the members and no charge to be made for same. All agreed upon a nice supper and plans were made to carry out this scheme.”
After dinner, Mr. Luke Pither gave a “splendid” Victrola concert. Mr. Pither was a local farmer, who had a model poultry farm and sold “Milk-Fed Chicken” at the Dixi-Ross grocery store.
Club president W.T. Edwards then took the chair. Mr. Edwards was a fruit farmer, swimming instructor and leader of the Sea Scouts. He believed that the goal of the Gordon Head Athletic Club would be that “all may become skilful and get all the happiness possible out of the Club.” Mr. Edward’s view of team spirit and fair play characterized the Gordon Head Athletic Club and found its way into the Club’s future patriotic activities.
President Edwards announced the result’s of the day’s sports “which was signal for much applause.” He then read a story of the club’s activities since the last general meeting, including a glowing report of the recent August 22 1916 picnic and swimming meet at Scarboro Heights beach:
“The day was very fine and all members and their friends appeared on time at Scarboro Heights, flags decorated the entrance and at the end of the walk, where a winding path leads down by many a step to the Beach, we passed a Union Jack as it flung its folds to the breeze above our heads.” (from the August 23 1916 minutes)
The members also heard about the August 25 1916 concert given under the auspices of the club in which the participants contributed to “a really fine program.” The evening had included songs by Mrs. MacDonald Fahey, legerdemain acts by Mr. Harold Diggon and a dancing and singing act by Miss Lily Dooley and her father.
The members next heard of the current successes of the Club’s football team, who played on Mr. Pither’s fields. They gave Mr. Pither “three cheers” for his support.
The war was not forgotten — The evening ended with a stirring speech regarding “those who are absent from us fighting the Empire’s battles in all earnestness on far-off battlefields, and the hope was expressed that all might lend a hand in the near future as evidence of the club’s interest.” The meeting adjourned until Saturday September 30 1916, after singing the National Anthem.
“All might lend a hand” to the war effort
The Club immediately set work work “lending a hand.” At the September 30 1916 meeting, an announcement was made to the offer that Mr. Pither had agreed to give a Victrola recital for the club, “the receipts from same to be used for some patriotic purpose. Moved by Mr. Grant seconded by Miss Rendle that Mr. Pither’s concert be arranged for Thanksgiving night and arrangements for same be left in the hands of the Secty and Treasurer, who were to secure tickets and to ask school children to dispose of same.”
Halloween Party for the Red Cross
On Halloween 1916, the Club held the first dance of the season, “a sheet or pillow case party” (possibly used as ghost costumes?) As noted in the November 20 1916 minutes, there was “good music and an excellent supper provided by the ladies. A good attendance and the sum of $5.10 handed to the Sec’ty for Red Cross.”
The Club also held a dance on Friday November 24 1916 (the singing class to be held on the following night). The proceeds were to be given to Red Cross works. But it’s possible that this dance was not a monetary success. On January 2 1917, Mr. Pearson reported for the dance committee. “The last dance given was not so well attended as the previous one – probably because of several counter attractions and in addition to this the weather was bad, very bad. The sum of $6.00 was received – but this was all required to pay expenses. Nothing left for R.C. [Red Cross].”
Christmas parcels to club members overseas
On September 30 1916, upon a motion of Mrs. Aitkens, seconded by Mrs. Pearson, “It was decided to send a Christmas parcel to the men of the district now serving the Empire.” They had $20 to spend on parcels – the sum of Mr. Pither’s Thanksgiving concert proceeds.
Between 1916 – 1918, these were the names of the Gordon Head Athletic Club members who received parcels during the war years (first names given where known): Mr. Beales, Mr. Boorman, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Stanley Featherstone, Mr. Thornton Fullerton, Mr. Mallett, Mr. Murray, Mr. Mik Roberts, Mr. Rossier, Mr. Thomas Todd, Mr. Wallace, Mr. Walsh, Mr. Williamson.
The Club appointed a committee consisting of Mrs. Aitkens, convenor, Mrs. Watson, Miss Watson, Miss Fullerton and the Secretary to attend to the purchasing and packing of gifts. Work was to be done on Thursday afternoon October 19 1916. The committee on packing gifts for the soldiers reported on November 20 1916 as follows: “all goods packed carefully by committee and others interested. A personal message sent to each man. Boxes contained good eats and smokes only. Committee names and a copy of Victoria papers enclosed.”
January 1917 – A farewell dance for Mr. Fullerton
In early 1917, the Club held a dance to bid farewell to one of their own. The Minutes for January 2 1917 note: “As one of our members had enlisted for overseas service and was about to leave the district for military duty, it was proposed by Mrs. Aitkens seconded by Mrs. Beales that the club give a farewell dance for Mr. Fullerton.”
James Thornton Fullerton, son of strawberry farmer John Fullerton, was a civil engineer who had recently gone to Royal Military College in Kingston and taken a commission in artillery. He became a provisional lieutenant.
The dance for Fullerton went well. The “Report of Club Dance in honor of Mr. Thornton Fullerton” (undated) noted that “The plans agreed upon were carried out to the letter.” The minutes describe the evening in detail: “The children’s games in which young and old participated began at eight o’clock. At nine the floor was made ready for dancing and a jolly evening was spent by all. A simple supper was served at eleven o’clock and dancing was resumed with added zest.”
“There were two events worthy of mention — a stirring speech from Capt. Williams who asked for other recruits from the district, pointing out the strong calls for assistance from the Motherland.”
“Later Mr. Edwards gave the message of the Club to Mr. Fullerton, wishing him much good fortune, great opportunities for service and a safe return. To all of which Mr. Fullerton appropriately replied. Everyone joined in singing ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ and wishing him godspeed.”
February 1917 – A Valentines Dance
At their January 2 1917 meeting, the Club decided to hold another dance: “Mr. Pearson announced a dance for St. Valentine’s Day when the whole proceeds will be given to the Red Cross or some other Patriotic enterprize [i.e. enterprise] to be decided upon later. Upon this occasion every family will be asked to pay fifty cents and to send something for supper. A friend of the club is to provide the music at his own expense.”
A report of the dance appeared in The Daily Colonist on February 18 1917 under the headline ‘Gordon Head Helps’.
“The Gordon Head Athletic Club excelled all its previous efforts in entertaining on St. Valentine’s Night, when its dance committee, whose convenor is Mr G.A. Pearson…welcomed the whole community to a well arranged and capably managed dance at the Gordon Head Hall. The room was effectively decorated in St. Valentine emblems, darts and hearts being very much in evidence in the scheme.”
“An orchestra of three pieces added in no small measure to the success of the event, and the supper was also much enjoyed by all. The entire proceeds, totally over $50, to which a handsome contribution was made by the man [Mr. J.A. Connell] who made Madrona Farm what it stands for today, will be given to the Red Cross funds.”
April 30 1917 – End of a good business year
The executive meeting of April 30 1917 wrapped up the business of the year. Mr Pearson reported verbally for the Dance Committe showing that all money over and above expenses had been handed to the Red Cross Society, and that the best of good feeling had characterised the work of his committee.”
The Christmas parcel committee also had good results: “The correspondence was then gone into and consisted mostly of letters of thanks from our fighting men at the front, who had been remembered by the Club during the year.” Read the letters from soldiers to the Gordon Head Athletic Club at the Saanich Archives.
August 1917 The Featherstone Cup for swimming
One of the men in France, young Stanley Featherstone, had sent the club a beautiful cup to be competed for by lady members. Featherstone’s parents brought the cup to the club, and they were subsequently made honorary members.
Considerable discussion then arose over how the cup should be used. “It was finally decided that the lady winning the greatest number of points in aquatic sports competition should hold the cup for one year. At the end of that time it would again become the property of the Club to be held for annual competition.”
On August 22 1917, the Club held its annual picnic and swimming races at Scarboro Heights, the home of Mr. G.A. Pearson. The Featherstone cup and medal for the swimmer gaining the most points was won by Connie Beales (who also held the cup in 1918).
1917 – onwards – “All were pleased and grateful for our interest”
The Gordon Head Athletic Club continued its patriotic activities over the war years. They held dances to raise money for the Red Cross. The minutes for April 29 1918 show the report from the Dance Committee: “several successful dances the proceeds amounting to Forty-Seven dollars and seventy cents being handed over entirely to the Red Cross.” Club activities were suspended during the Spanish Flu outbreak. The minutes for October 1918 say: “On account of influenza the committee program was interrupted. The Health Authorities placed a ban upon dancing and all public assembly.”
The Club also continued to send parcels to the men overseas. On September 30 1918 “An executive meeting of the G.H.A.C. was held in the Gordon Head Hall on Monday at eight p.m. to arrange for our yearly Christmas remembrances to members of the Club now overseas on Active Service. All present were desirous of sending parcels as usual and $30.00 was allowed to cover the expense of same. Moved by H.A. [McNaughton] seconded by Miss Somers that Mrs. Aitkens should be Convenor of parcel committee with power to select her helpers. Carried.”
On May 9 1919, Mrs. Aitkens and the Committee on Parcels “gave their report and received the hearty thanks of the Executive. At this point letters of thanks from the soldiers who had been remembered were presented. All were pleased and grateful for our interest.”
By May 1919, most of the Club’s members had returned from overseas. The Club’s executive wrote a note of congratulation to Mr. Mallett who was “fortunate enough to receive a Military medal for courage under trying circumstances.” On May 19 1919 “It was decided to hold a dance under the auspices of this Club on May 23rd at 8:00 p.m. The Social Committee to take charge of refreshments. Miss Somers to have charge of decorations, a large committee to assist. Secretary was instructed to write invitations to our returned soldiers asking their presence.”
As the Club had wished, their member James Thornton Fullerton had a safe return from war. He was demobilized in April 1919, so probably attended the Gordon Head Athletic Club dance on May 23 1919.
Saanich Archives has complete minutes of the Gordon Head Athletic Club. Staff at the Archives have done commendable work in reviewing these hand-written minutes for all “war-related” references and have transcribed and shared these online. The Archives has also digitized hundreds of photographs of Gordon Head residents at work and at play. All photographs have been made accessible on their website.
News items about the Gordon Head Athletic Club can be found in digitized copies of Victoria’s morning newspaper, The Daily Colonist
Further details of Gordon Head residents (and some mentions of the Gordon Head Athletic Club) may be found in Ursula Jupp, Cordwood to Campus in Gordon Head 1852 to 1959. Jupp was the daughter of the Club’s president W.T. Edwards.