In the early years of the 20th century, Gordon Head in Saanich on Vancouver Island was synonymous with strawberries and daffodils. The area, now covered by an extensive housing development and the University of Victoria campus, was once open fields of fruit and flowers stretching down towards the sea.
While Gordon Head residents worked hard on their farms, they also played hard — football, tennis, swimming and dances were the order of the day. The focal point for recreation and social gatherings was the Gordon Head Athletic Club, formed in 1916. For about six years, the “G.H.A.C”, through collaboration of its community members, provided athletic entertainment for the young people of Gordon Head.
On August 13 1916, The Daily Colonist published “Gordon Head is an Active Community”, intended to introduce the new Gordon Head Athletic Club. This article provides a good framework to introduce Gordon Head and its people.
Gordon Head has been heard of all through the west as the home of the strawberry. The growers have spared no pains to discover the ideal berry for home use and also for shipment to other markets. They have banded themselves together into an incorporated and co-operative club, in order to study all sides of the production and marketing of their fruits.Gordon Head is an Active Community, The Daily Colonist, August 13 1916
In spring 1915, the recently-formed Gordon Head Fruit-growers Association made their first strawberry shipment to the Prairie Provinces. “Shipments arrived in excellent condition and were most favourably commented upon by dealers,” reported the The Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture for the year 1915. Thus, Gordon Head became a famous name for strawberries in the WWI years and into the early 1920s. Strawberry prices were good in 1915, averaging about $1.70 per crate freight on board. The Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture for the year 1915 stated: “The satisfactory prices received for strawberries were largely due to the good work done by the co-operative associations recently formed at Gordon Head and Keating, a striking instance of the necessity for business organization for the best distribution and marketing of their production.” The Daily Colonist, July 25 1915 also applauded the Gordon Head Fruit-growers Association: “This is a demonstration of what can be accomplished by concentrated effort, organization, inspection and proper distribution….”
The original directors of the Gordon Head Fruit-growers Association were G.F. Watson, F.E. Aitkens, William Tucker, H.H. Grist. These men were all original members of the Gordon Head Athletic Club. Another member of the Association was W.T. Edwards, the Club’s president.
Gordon Head is also known for the outstanding ability of her matrons and maids…. Some time ago these ladies won the silver cup at a Provincial Exhibition for the best all-round exhibits shown by any Women’s Institute in British Columbia. This they still hold, and what is more, like true Britishers, they intend to hold always, by keeping themselves abreast of the times, in order to defend it against all contestants. The ladies of this district are forging ahead in patriotic work, accomplishing a most commendable result, and are preparing to do still more for the common cause.Gordon Head is an Active Community, The Daily Colonist, August 13 1916
On September 28 1909, Miss Laura Rose of the Guelph Agricultural College addressed a Farmer’s Institute meeting at Gordon Head, and the first Women’s Institute in British Columbia was formed. Miss Laura Rose wrote: “The prominent features of the B.C. Women’s institutes are to promote civic improvement, assist in making the annual fall fairs more of an educational feature, especially for the children, to promote a feeling of greater friendliness and unity in the community as well as to improve the home and its surroundings.” (quoted in The Daily Colonist, March 30 1910) The first presidents of Gordon Head Women’s Institute were Mrs. Elizabeth Watson and Mrs. May Atikens. These active “matrons” were wives of original directors of the Gordon Head Fruit-grower’s Association and were original members of the Gordon Head Athletic Club.
At the 1911 Victoria Fair, the Gordon Head Women’s Institute’s booth won first prize. Here is a description of the winning display from Victoria Daily Times, September 8 1911: “It is not going too far to say the winning exhibit is a whole show in itself. Everything manufactured or produced by the housewife – bread, cakes, pies, bottled fruit, candies and articles for the dressing and sitting rooms, such as fancy work, cushion covers and hand-painted pictures — form a prominent part of the display, although they are only a small part of the whole. Garden and wild flowers, the most beautiful of which is perhaps the lacy and fragile maiden hair fern, vegetables and grains, including oats, wheat, two-rowed barley, rye and black oats, as well as diminutive children’s garments, are also in the collection. In fact, everything that would pertain to a farm only to be imagined for its perfectness is there, and all arranged in a beautiful and appropriate style.”
Gordon Head is also becoming known through her school children. Last year and this, the Reeve’s medal has been won here, and this year a Gordon Head maiden, having won the Reeve’s medal in 1915, took second place in the preliminary work at Victoria High School.Gordon Head is an Active Community, The Daily Colonist, August 13 1916
The Gordon Head School was located at the top of Tyndall Avenue near present-day Grandview Avenue. From the 1890s until 1914, the school was a “one-room” school. Many children who became members of the Gordon Head Athletic Club started in this building. In August 1977, two of these former students were interviewed about their school memories. Ursula (Edwards) Jupp recalled: “It was a yellow colour, a sort of faded yellow colour, with a darker trim and a hipped roof…inside there was a little raised platform, this was the end you came in at with a door at each side. It wasn’t boys and girls, so we were not separated. We had two to a desk.” Marjorie (Watson) Goodwin recalled: “There were very few children, only about twenty or thirty, but there was all the grades, you see, and we sat in double seats and then there was the teacher’s desk up on a little platform at the front and the stove was right in the middle up by the teacher’s desk. Those that sat by the stove roasted and those that sat near the back, on cold days had to wear their coats. It was so cold.”
By 1914, the population of school children in Gordon Head was growing so much that a new two-room school was opened. The old school later became the Gordon Head Athletic Club’s gymnasium. The larger land space for the new school meant that there was more room for recreational activities — the Gordon Head Athletic Club would build tennis courts and a school garden on the property.
Gordon Head School was academically strong and produced a number of successful High School “Entrance” examination candidates. In 1915, Ursula Edwards had the top entrance examination score in the Municipality of Saanich. She was awarded the Reeve’s Gold Medal (a gold pin). Ursula continued her success at Victoria High School and came second of all preliminary year students. Ursula had a long trip to High School — six miles there and back. She got a ride from her Dad by horse and buggy to the Mount Tolmie street car in mornings, but had to walk all the way back up Cedar Hill Road in afternoons. Marjorie Watson was part of “The Bicycle Brigade” whose parents could afford to buy them a bicycle. She rode a return trip of twelve miles every day, school books in her bicycle basket.
Gordon Head has awakened to the fact that ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,’ and that the boy without a playground becomes the man without a job.Gordon Head is an Active Community, The Daily Colonist August 13 1916
Studying hard and riding bicycles twelve miles a day, what else was there for children to do in Gordon Head? Bee Williamson, another High School student and Gordon Head Athletic Club member, recalled: “We made our own fun in those days. Everyone worked on the farms, and all the kids had chores to do.”
Bee Williamson told historian Ursula Jupp about other memories: “Other happily remembered times were when the mother would pack picnic lunches and all would join the father at work in the clearing at the top of the hill. There the boys would build a tepee of branches while the little girls swung around gaily on the merry-go-round made by the father from a sapling pegged to the centre of a newly-cut stump.” (Torch of Progress in Firm Hands, The Daily Colonist, April 19 1964)
And then there was Sunday…no work and no fun? Bee Williamson was one of many of Gordon Head’s Scots Presbyterians who attended Sunday School at the Gordon Head Hall. (Her dad was the long-time instructor) Marjorie Watson, from a Scots family, recalled typical Sundays….and how the war changed that: “Before the First World War on Sunday, you weren’t allowed to do anything but go to Sunday School, go for a walk or something like that. But during the War we started rolling bandages.”
Women’s Institutes were thinking of ways to remedy the problem of “no fun” for farm kids. In September 1915, Mrs. May Aitkens of the Gordon Head Women’s Institute attended the Second Annual Convention of the Women’s Institutes of Vancouver Island.
“Recreations for Young People in Rural Districts” formed the topic for an address by Mrs. Graves, who spoke in an interesting manner on the problems confronting the mothers of the community in that respect. They might be, to a large extent, eliminated in her opinion. She advocated healthy exercise in all things and made a plea for the women of the Institutes to see that the children were given their rightful share of recreation as well as study.” The Daily Colonist September 9 1915
This talk may well have been an inspiration starting the Gordon Head Athletic Club a few months later.
Therefore, when a group of residents particularly interested in the very promising young people of the district, met together and talked over the situation, there was an immediate response…Gordon Head is an Active Community, The Daily Colonist, August 13 1916