Mr. Pither and his Play Field

Mr. Luke Pither, who has long shown an interest in providing a play field for our young people, was asked to accept the Hon. Presidency of the club. May 31 1916 minutes. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

“….one man, mindful of his own boyhood days, and knowing a boy’s need of sports, gave free use of a big play field for games. (Gordon Head is an Active Community, The Daily Colonist, August 13 1916)

“Mrs. McNaughton reported an interview with Mr. Luke Pither who most generously agreed to allow the use of a field at the corner of his farm for a play field for Gordon Head, the only stipulation being that the gates be closed and the place be respected…” (Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes, May 31 1916)

“Mr. Luke Pither is not a scientific and experienced poultryman — he is a businessman, and a very good one, as almost everyone in British Columbia knows!” (Poultry Farming as an Applied Science, The Daily Colonist December 15 1912)

Mr. Luke Pither was a Victoria businessman — Pither and Leiser Importers and Wholesale Wines Liquors and Cigars — who had a “Model Poultry Farm” in Gordon Head. Pither and his “famous milk-bred boilers” appear often in The Daily Colonist in the pre-war period.

Mr. Luke Pither (at left holding dog) was a successful businessman who ran a Model Poultry Farm in Gordon Head. The Daily Colonist, December 15 1912

Pither was particularly lauded for the “scientific” approach to his farming: “He knows and he has proven for himself that perfect organization, modern and complete equipment, system in everything, and the employment of scientific experts are the essentials of success in any business undertaking. He has simply carried this knowledge and these principles into poultry farming.” An advertisement from 1911 noted that the chickens are “not only milk-fed, but scientifically fed”. In “Milk-fed Chickens” (February 12 1911), Pither wrote in detail about the science and cost of fattening chickens and noted he had developed a “Fattening Department” at his farm. “It is my intention in the spring of 1911 to enlarge my fattening department to accommodate more than 2,000 chickens in fattening coops at one time.”

The Daily Colonist March 18 1911

The Model Poultry Farm of Canada contains some fifty-two acres — dry, sunny, sheltered and admirably selected for the purpose. There is a handsome and modernly equipped residence, which is the summer home of the proprietor….” (Poultry Farming as an Applied Science, The Daily Colonist December 15 1912)

The Pither’s summer home in Gordon Head (later the Lambrick residence) is now a designated Saanich heritage property. Photo credit: Saanich Heritage Register.

Mr. Luke Pither and his wife Margaret initially spent their summers in Gordon Head. The Pithers lived in Victoria, where Mrs. Pither was active in philanthropic causes — the B.C. Protestant Orphanage, the Aged Ladies Home and St. Joseph’s Hospital. On November 21 1915, Margaret Sparkes Pither died of an “apoplectic seizure”. The Daily Colonist shared its deepest sympathy: “She was a lady of the best type, a helpful wife, and a useful member of the community.”

In Spring 1916, just a few months after his wife’s death, Mr. Luke Pither was approached by Mrs. Peter McNaughton about sharing part of his field so the boys of Gordon Head would have somewhere to play. He generously agreed. Soon the Gordon Head Athletic Club was formed, and Pither became its Honorary President.

The Pither Play Field (as it was always referred to in the Club minutes) was the scene of many happy football and lacrosse games among the young men of Gordon Head. At the July 7 1916 executive meeting, plans were made to get the field ready for use. “Moved by Mrs. Mitchell, seconded by Mr. Watson that we secure a football for the Pither Playfield, a first class ball, carried…..Mr. Rendell generously offered to equip [play field] with full posts etc.” The Play Field appears to have opened for use on Wednesday night, July 12 1916. A few days later at the July 18 1916 meeting, “A report was given re the football ground as follows: Great enthusiasm over the game and the posts were placed according to promise at Mr. Rendell’s expense. The best thanks of the club are tendered to Mr. Rendell for this work.”

By mid August, the Pither Play Field was well used. “The playfield is open every night under voluntary supervision, and lively games are arranged by seniors and juniors. Football seems to be the most popular game among the men and boys, who have elected their officers and are planning much for the future. (The Daily Colonist August 13 1916)

At the Club’s end of summer season dinner and meeting, Mr. W. Tucker reported for the football season to date. “This account was much appreciated and the members were of one mind of the success of that department of the Club’s activities. Mr. Pither was given three hearty cheers for his help in this work, the Pither playing field being the scene of the action.” (The Daily Colonist, September 26 1916)

Gordon Head lacrosse team on the Pither Play Field. Taken in the fields at the corner of Tyndall Avenue and Kenmore Road. Back row left to right: George Williamson, Gordon Lindquist, Albert Cameron. Front row left to right: James Dobbs, Charlie Aitkens in the “GH” sweater, and Albert Shaw. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

The Club members continued to use the Pither Play Field all winter, and at the Club’s first Annual Meeting on April 30 1917, “Mr. Tucker reported for the football section, particularly mentioning Mr. Pither’s continued kindness to the club in allowing it the use of the Play Field.” At that same meeting in Spring 1917, Mrs. Luke Pither’s name was added to Club’s executive committee. Mr. Luke Pither had remarried Elizabeth Walker in January 1917, and the Pithers were making Gordon Head their permanent home (as appears in 1917 directory). Pither continued to give the Club access to his field, as the minutes from the Annual Meeting of May 19 1919 show: “Agreed that letters of thanks go out to our Hon. President Mr. Luke Pither for the use of the Play Field”.

However, it’s not clear if Pither continued access to the field as of 1921. Here is what happened at the fifth Annual Meeting in May 1921: “The question of obtaining a suitable play field, where the various events of the association could be effectively held, was discussed, and it was the opinion of the meeting that it was very unfortunate that Gordon Head had given considerable time to the strawberry problem, it seemed to care little and had scant attention to the proper place for play and recreation, which is very necessary in the maintenance of the physical standards of the community.” (Gordon Head Wants Field for Athletes, The Daily Colonist May 21 1921). A committee was appointed to make enquiries “re the selection of a suitable site for this worthy purpose.” What happened next is unknown. But, one hundred years later, it’s interesting to note that the site of the “Pither Play Field” now forms part of Gordon Head’s Lambrick Park.

Next – Courts worthy of this District