Dances at Gordon Head Hall

Gordon Head Hall (originally located at the top of Tyndall Avenue) was the scene of many Gordon Head Athletic Club dances that raised money for the Red Cross. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Dances and parties were a key part of the Gordon Head Athletic Club’s social programme. Dances were held at the Gordon Head Hall, built in 1898 and located at the top of Tyndall Avenue near present day Ash Road and Grandview Drive. Gordon Head historian Ursula Jupp has noted “During the years of the First World War, Red Cross work and the fundraising concerts and dances connected with it meant frequent gatherings [at the Gordon Head Hall].” While the Club’s dances had a primary social function, their secondary purpose was to raise money for patriotic purposes like the Red Cross.

Mr. G.A. Pearson was asked to take charge of a committee on dancing and accepted. Mr. Pearson moved, seconded by Mrs. Aitkens, that members be allowed the privilege of inviting their friends to these functions. Carried.

Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes, September 30 1916

A dance required a lot of planning, as the Club minutes show. Committees were formed to write and sell tickets (usually twenty-five cents), take charge of music and prepare refreshments. See this comment from May 19 1919: “Ice cream to be served. Arrangements to be in hands of the social committee. The president to see that the room was made ready. Tickets to be prepared. Miss Flo Dunnett to write them. Mr. Edwards to secure a door keeper. Music to be given by H.A. and R. McNaughton. Decorations committee, Miss Somers and a group of her choosing.”

And of course — the “clean up committee”. It was not a matter of just booking the Gordon Head Hall and showing up. The Hall was used for multiple purposes such as meetings and church services. So, some work had to be done. Dorothy (Poulton) Ramsay, who lived in Gordon Head during the WWI years, said: “when we had a dance we had to haul all the benches out and we had to take them back in after the dance was over, which was hard work.”

It was even harder work to get the Hall ready for the Club’s first 1916 dance. On October 13 1916, “It was decided that the Hall required a thorough cleaning out before the dancing committee put on their proposed Halloween party. Mr. Tucker, Mr. William Edwards, Mrs. Aitkens and the Secretary agreed to attend to this task. Five dollars was allowed for expenses.” On November 20 1916, “Mr. Tucker reported that the ‘clean up committee’ had done the work assigned to them for supervision…They had purchased transparent paper for the windows of the Hall, a pair of hinges for the front door, and some glass panes to take the place of broken windows. The amount this expended was ordered paid. It totalled $3.10. The committee was commended for its interest and efforts on behalf of the club.”

When they used to give dances, you know, people would bring their children and make them comfortable on a bench with a pillow, blanket and other things.

Dorothy (Poulton) Ramsay

The first dance of the newly formed Gordon Head Athletic Club was a Halloween “sheet or pillow case party” (presumably ghost costumes!). The party went well: “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’s “juniors” (14-18 year olds) had their Halloween festivities on the same night as the adults. Here’s Secretary McNaughton’s wonderful description of the party: “Following an old custom, the children cut Jack o lanterns from pumpkins and oranges. In the oranges were tiny candles and they were placed on the window sills. The pumpkins were suspended from greenery here and there about the room. The juniors were allowed to share the fun until nine thirty and they were very happy in their play.”

The Club’s next dance (November 24 1917) was not so well attended, “probably because of several counter attractions and in addition to this the weather was bad, very bad.” The Club only received $6.00 was received, but this was all required to pay expenses. There was nothing left to donate to the Red Cross.

At the beginning of January, the Club held a much better attended “farewell” dance for a member who had enlisted for overseas service. Lieutenant James Thornton Fullerton was son of fruit grower John Fullerton and sister of Miss Fullerton of the Club executive. The members discussed when to hold the dance. “Capt. Todd volunteered to interview the convener of the music committee in order to get his consent to hold the dance after the singing class on Friday evening, Jan. 5th, provided it would in no way interfere with his work. Captain Todd agreed to inform the Secretary of Mr. Watson’s reply so that notices might be sent out as necessary. This arrangement satisfied the Club and was agreed to upon a show of hands.”

“The plans agreed upon were carried out to the letter,” wrote Secretary McNaughton in ‘Report of the Club Dance in honour of Mr. Fullerton’. In addition to the Gordon Head residents, a number of guests came from the City, Cedar Hill and surrounding communities, “all adding their share to a very successful evening.” The minutes describe the evening:

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.

The dance was a success, but the Club minutes also show some failings: “In arranging our committee we made two mistakes which should be guarded against in future. We made no one responsible for the lighting and heating of the hall and we failed to arrange a clean up committee. Perhaps these two committees might be arranged alphabetically among our membership. It would a plan worth trying among the young men of the singing class as an experiment.” (Report of the Club Dance for Mr. Fullerton, 1917)

Next up was the St. Valentine’s Day dance. Every family was asked to pay fifty cents and to send something for supper. A friend of the club was to provide the music at his own expense. All proceeds were to be donated to the Red Cross or some patriotic purpose. Here is a report of the dance published in The Daily Colonist February 18 1917: “The Gordon Head Athletic Club excelled all its previous efforts in entertaining on St. Valentine’s Night, when its dance committee, whose convener is Mr. G.A. Pearson of Scarboro Heights, welcomed the whole community to a well arranged and capably managed dance at Gordon Head Hall. The room was effectively decorated in St. Valentine’s 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…will be given to the Red Cross funds.”

A few other Club dances followed that spring. At the first Annual Meeting on April 30 1917, Mr. Pearson reported for the Dance Committee, showing that “all money over and above expenses had been handed to the Red Cross Society, and that the best of good feeling had characterized the work of his committee.”

White shoes to match a white dress!

At that time, a white dress required white stockings and white shoes. Here’s how Ursula (Edwards) Jupp managed to get dressed for a dance: “Things were not all that loose money wise, and my mother’s sister in England used to send out…I had a first cousin some years old and these dresses used to come out. I had a dress that would now be considered smashing. A white crepe de Chine, lovely heavy stuff. There was a dance at the Gordon Head Hall and I had no white shoes to wear with this, and Mrs. McNaughton…her daughter Helen had a pair of white elk skin brogues about two sizes two big for me which she gave me, which I wore to the dance with my crepe de Chine dress.”

Marjorie Watson had no problem finding white shoes to match her white dress! Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Next – “All were pleased and grateful for our interest”