The Art of Swimming

Margaret’s Bay, Gordon Head, site of summer swimming lessons. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

They now have a large swimming section under the expert direction of the Club’s president, a busy and successful farmer, who meets his class three times a week at St. Margaret’s Beach. This class has grown so rapidly that it was necessary to secure an assistant. So contagious is the spirit of the community welfare that another busy man immediately volunteered his services. It is indeed a pretty sight to see some fifty bathers in gay caps and suits prepared for the leader’s signal to take their first cold dip of the swimming day.

Gordon Head is an Active Community, The Daily Colonist, August 13 1916

The children of Gordon Head were surrounded by the waters of the Haro Strait, yet many of them did not know how to swim. Gordon Head Athletic Club President W.T. Edwards was soon to change that. On May 31 1916, at the Club’s first planning meeting, “Mrs. Mitchell stated that Mr. Edwards was willing to teach any of the young people in Gordon Head to swim.” Swimming lessons started as soon as the Gordon Head children started their summer holidays (and Edwards was finished the busy strawberry season). Lessons were held three afternoons a week at Margaret’s Bay, “a slightly warmer, slightly flatter beach,” recalled Ursula (Edwards) Jupp.

The Secretary, Mrs. McNaughton, wrote about the first swimming lesson: “all very enthusiastic and a pretty group they made on June 24th as gathered about their instructors all ready for that first cold dip and shiver arrayed in bathing suits of many colours and the girls little and big in their gay bathing caps standing for a moment at attention while Miss Airlie Watson photographed them.” Sadly, no record of this momentous occasion has been found, but this contemporary snapshot of Gordon Head residents shows the typical bathing suits and swimming caps of the time.

Happy Gordon Head bathers show off typical bathing suits. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Mrs. McNaughton continued her enthusiasm: “Perhaps these young people scarcely realize what a privilege it is to have, here in this Country district, such expert attention in the art of swimming. Their fathers can tell them many a tale of how they sought the old ‘swimming hole’, of the bathing suits they wore on these occasions – little dreaming at the time that their children would one day dip into the broad Pacific Ocean and learn from experts how to battle with its waters, unafraid.”

Lessons started with nine students, and proved so popular by mid July 1916 there were twenty-four students. W.T. Edwards got an assistant swimming instructor, Mr. George A. Pearson of ‘Scarboro Heights’ near Margaret’s Bay. The lessons were going so well that the President called a meeting to discuss plans for a swimming contest. “It was decided hold a basket picnic and swimming contest at Scarboro Heights Beach on August 23rd at 3 P.M….The secretary was instructed to post notices of this event in several prominent places, to insert a notice in the daily paper of Victoria and to have announcements made at Sunday services.”

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.

Report of Basket Picnic and Swimming Contest on August 23rd 1916
A swimming gala at Margaret’s Bay or Mount Douglas Park. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

The officers of the day were: Judge, Mr. G.A. Pearson; Referees, Miss Dunnett and Miss Somers; Official Starter, Mr. W.T. Edwards. These are the races:

3.15 – No I – 10 yard race open to bona fide beginners

3.30 – No II – 25 yard race open to all club members

3.50 – No III – 25 yard race open to all club members breast stroke only

4.00 – No IV – 50 yard handicap race (this was substituted by an exhibition of swimming by some who had much training and experience)

4.15 – No V – race for juniors 8 years or under to go after apples and bring back over course as many as possible, one at a time in a given number of minutes

4.30 – Apple scramble for all juniors

Gordon Head Athletic Club made their basket picnic and swimming galas an annual event, and expanded their activities to include pole walking, diving and fancy dress competitions. In 1916, prizes were not to exceed $2.50, and a special “second” prize was offered by Mr. G.A. Pearson — a trip to the city! In 1917, swimmers had a new prize — the Featherston Cup. Stanley Featherston, one of the young Gordon Head men serving in France, had sent a cup “to be competed for by lady members in any way thought best by the Executive.” They decided that “the Featherston cup will be awarded to the young lady member who makes the greatest number of points in aquatic sports and may be held for one year and then again it reverts to the club for annual competition. 15 points will be awarded for each first place in races. 10 points will be awarded for each second place in races.” The first winner was Connie Beales.

Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes August 1918. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

“Supper spread upon the beach was quite a feature of the afternoon,” reported Secretary McNaughton. The 1917 picnic planning shows some detail: “The president agreed to see that water was made ready for tea and that dishes were at the grounds, kettles etc. Mr. Vantreight agreed to leave a tarpaulin on the beach and a large receptacle for boiling water.” (There was no piped water in Gordon Head until the 1920s — it came from local wells) A 1917 newspaper report of that picnic notes: “…music was provided by a fine gramophone, kindly lent for the occasion by Mrs. Todd. Needless to add, all present did great justice to the comestibles which formed a feature of the picnic.”

Clippings of the 1917 Gordon Head Athletic Club’s annual swimming fete, pasted in the minute book. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

they told Mr. Edwards just how much his work for them in teaching them to swim three afternoons every week of vacation had meant to the young people of the neighbourhood…

The awards were about to be presented at the first Gordon Head Athletic Club annual swimming gala when “two young girls slipped forward and in a few words clearly spoken so that the whole company could hear” thanked their swimming instructor Mr. W.T. Edwards for his lessons. They presented Edwards with “a small token of this appreciation in the form of a bathing suit with monogram embroidered by one of the club members in purple and white, which they hoped to see him wear often.”

Edwards claimed to be fully repaid for any time spent in club work by the happiness the children had shown throughout the season in the different sports planned for their benefit. Next, assistant instructor Mr. G.A. Pearson was called to the front and a young man presented to him “a pillow in purple and white work cut monogram filled with rose leaves redolent of a summer at Gordon Head when each member of the club strove to make better and happier the lives of all the rest.”

“A huge bonfire was now blazing and games and songs and stories put to an end a day to be remembered. After singing cheers for our host and his wife at Scarboro Heights, the national anthem was lustily sung and all turned their faces homeward.”

Next – Our First Concert Program