“…make a beginning in beautifying the school grounds”

Gordon Head School, 1919. Note the school garden at the front of the photo. Credit: Saanich Archives.

A group of interested members gathered at the school grounds in order to make a beginning in beautifying the school grounds.

Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes, March 17 1917

The young people of Gordon Head attended a one-roomed – and later two-roomed – school at the top of Tyndall Avenue. Ursula (Edwards) Jupp attended Gordon Head School from 1912 – 1915. This is how she recalled the school grounds: “At that time there was just half an acre in the front, later on when they built the two-roomed school they got another half acre at the back. Very rough that was too. Just where the stumps had been blown out, you know, it was a rough old place in my going to school time there.” Ursula’s description was typical for rural school grounds in British Columbia at that time. Here’s a photograph that appeared in the Forty-fourth Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1914-1915:

School grounds filled with stumps were fairly common for the time. Photo credit: Forty-fourth Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1914-1915, UBC Open Collections

The Gordon Head Athletic Club wanted to do something to improve their young people’s school surroundings. In Spring 1916, the Gordon Head Athletic Club secured the approval of the Saanich School Board to built tennis courts on part of the school property. They got in the municipal grader and a team of horses to clear and flatten the soil. They built courts which the school children could use during the day (and they gave the school children a choice of whether to have both courts for tennis or one to be used for play). (Read more in “Courts worthy of this District…”)

In Fall 1917, the Club wanted to improve their property further. They started to investigate the possibility of planting trees on an “Arbour Day” and they wanted to get some expert advice. On November 20 1917, a committee was asked to “ascertain Mr. Gibson’s views on the cultivation of school grounds, if possible secure from him an illustrated lecture showing schools in many localities.”

J.W. Gibson was Supervisor of Agricultural Education for the Province. During the WWI-era, the British Columbia Department of Education promoted the beautification of school grounds and school gardens. Emphasis was on food production during wartime, and the school children sold their produce to parents and community and raised funds for the Red Cross. But there was another purpose to the school garden programme — that of all-round education and community engagement, philosophies which the Gordon Head Athletic Club also shared.

Not only are they learning how to cultivate the soil and study the habits of seeds and plants, but to work together for the common good.

Maria Lawson, The Daily Colonist, July 8 1917

At the beginning of WWI, the only Saanich School with a garden was at Craigflower School, “through the determination of the principal.” Gardens were becoming well-established in Victoria, especially at Kingston Street, George Jay and Oaklands Schools. By 1916, “School gardens were operated at schools in Saanich: Gordon Head, Keating, Saanichton.” (The Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1915-1916) Gordon Head School teacher Helen McNaughton, who arrived at the beginning of the 1915-1916 school year, was responsible for starting Gordon Head School’s garden. But there was still more to be done.

Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes. Photo credit: Saanich Archives
Photo credit: The Daily Colonist February 18 1917

On February 22 1917, Mr. J.W. Gibson showed the Gordon Head Athletic Club the possibilities for their rural school garden. Gibson’s talk was probably the same as this one given in March 1917 to the Garden City Women’s Institute: “…the school gardens in all stages of construction; the virgin land; the burning of stumps by burning and machinery; the first ploughing; and the beautifully laid out school gardens in full production….slides illustrating the beautifying of home and garden grounds and play grounds used all through vacations under proper supervision for exercises and educational games. All this, with Mr. Gibson’s well expressed descriptions, held the interest of his audience throughout.” (The Daily Colonist, March 11 1917)

Mr. Gibson showed clearly the cultural effect of school surroundings in pictures grounds before and after their improvement and inspired us with the desire to make the grounds about our own beautifully situated public school such a setting as was suggested us by pictures shown of other schools.

Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes

At the close of Mr. Gibson’s talk, it was decided to hold an executive meeting and at once plan for work along the line Gibson had suggested. First, the school had to get some money to make a garden happen. At the Saanich School Board meeting on March 12 1917, Gordon Head and Prospect Lake Schools were granted $50 to start school gardens. (The Daily Colonist March 13 1917). No doubt Club member and School Trustee G.F. Watson was instrumental in getting the grant. On March 17 1917, a group of interested Club members gathered at the school in order to make a beginning in beautifying the school grounds. “Mr. G.F. Watson undertook with Mr. Edwards and Mr. Aitkens to move the [flag] pole nearer school house in order to leave a clear play space in the centre. Captain Todd agreed to have the digging necessary taken care of. This was done. Mr. Somers was present to plough that portion of the gardens needed for a garden which work be thoroughly attended to. Messrs. P. McNaughton, Tucker, Edgar Vantreight, H.C. Dasher and others were helping to put the grounds to rights and at the close of a busy afternoon the men were called to the gym for tea prepared and served by Mrs. Watson and Mrs. McNaughton.”

March 17 1917, Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

By 1919, the Gordon Head School garden was well-established, as were other Saanich school gardens. “In Saanich the results have been gratifying. The character and function of nature-study and school-gardening have been appreciated and good work is being done,” wrote Saanich agricultural inspector H.E. Hallwright in the Annual Report of Public Schools of British Columbia 1918-1919.

Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1918-1919

In Spring 1919, journalist and long-time school garden promoter Maria Lawson spent a day visiting Saanich school gardens with inspector H.E. Hallwright. Her account appeared in The Daily Colonist, May 11 1919:

“At Gordon Head School we get a glimpse of the sparkling waters of the sea. No longer the adjective “bare” fittingly describe Saanich schoolhouses, much less the building, where Miss Williams and her assistant meet their pupils on Spring mornings. The borders are filled with Spring flowers of many colours and the air is filled with fragrance. A large bed of violets, which since earliest Spring have been laden with blossoms, shows that the gardens here have found a source of profit as well as of pleasure. City people eagerly bought the sweet flowers little hands had gathered early mornings or after school tasks were over.

Very proud are the teachers of the seedlings which prove beyond any doubt the excellence of the seeds they saved last season. All the beds of the vegetable gardens have been raked smooth and much of the seed has been planted. The pioneer work in which Miss MacNaughton and other teachers persisted in the face of many discouragements is over. The garden has been made.”

It is plain that the approval and assistance of the fruit-growers of this progressive district has been gained and that school gardening has come to stay.

“Here come the gardeners, trooping down the stairs and into the tool room, ready for a fine game of make believe. They are going to have their pictures taken. From the fair-haired sturdy little man of six, who carries the biggest, shiniest fork he could find, to the tall student, almost ready for the High School, all the students look as though they welcomed the summons into the sunshine. It took but a few minutes for arrangement and then before the most restless of the children had time to move the picture was taken.” (The picture taken that day is probably this one below that appeared in Hallwright’s report in the Annual Report of Public Schools of British Columbia 1918-1919)

Photo credit: Annual Report for Public Schools of British Columbia 1918-1919. UBC Open Collections.

The Gordon Head Athletic Club’s efforts to improve its school grounds had fruition. A few months after developing their expanded school garden, Gordon Head School saw success at the 1917 North and South Saanich Agricultural Fair, when they won 1st prize for the best collection of vegetables. The following year, at the 1918 Fair, they won 3rd prize for best collection of garden seeds (12 vegetable and 6 flower); the prize was a bench vise screw donated by agricultural supervisor H.E. Hallwright. In 1919, Gordon Head School students won a Rotary Club prize for seed production.

Photo credit: Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1919-1920.

But more than prizes, the Gordon Head school children had developed positive attitudes for life. Maria Lawson ended her visit to Saanich school gardens with this observation, of which the Gordon Head Athletic Club would surely approve: “During the delightful drive it was learned that the school gardens are made for the benefit of the children solely. In them, it is believed, the pupils learn the value of self-control and co-operation. Valuable as is the knowledge gained of the processes of nature and useful as may be the slowly acquired skill of the pupil, the aim of the teacher is not to make efficient gardeners, but good men and women with greater capacity for happiness.”


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