The Story of the Gordon Head Athletic Club

Starting the Club

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

At Gordon Head Hall on May 31 1916, a group of Gordon Head residents “much interested in the young people of the community gathered to discuss the possibility of forming some sort of association for the purpose of securing and controlling recreation centres for Gordon Head.” The group decided to call their organization the Gordon Head Athletic Club.

The inaugural meeting of the (yet to be named) Gordon Head Athletic Club was held on May 31 1916. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Among these interested residents were Mr. William Trevellick Edwards, Mrs. Peter (Marie) McNaughton, Mrs. Florence Mitchell, Mr Ernest Rendle, Miss Jessie Dunnett, Miss Jessie Fullerton, Miss Airlie Watson and Mr. George Fraser Watson, Saanich School trustee. “The election of officers was thus proceeded with, moved by Mrs. Mitchell, seconded by Mrs. Aitkens, that Mr. W.T. Edwards be our president, carried. Moved by Mr. Edwards, seconded by Mrs. Mitchell, that Mrs. Peter McNaughton act as secretary, carried.”

The Secretary and Our President

“The coming to Gordon Head of Mrs. Peter McNaughton added much to the activities of the District. With a wide experience in public service in Vancouver behind her, she was soon busy in this country neighbourhood and encouraged the formation of the Gordon Head Athletic Club.”

Ursula Jupp, The Daily Colonist May 29 1960

Gordon Head Athletic Club Secretary Mrs. Peter McNaughton and President W.T. Edwards came from different worlds. She was a well-to-do “prominent woman”, he was a financially struggling widower raising two daughters. But both shared an interest in making a better place for the young people of Gordon Head.

Marie Henrietta McNaughton (almost always referred to as ‘Mrs. Peter McNaughton’, as was the custom of the time) was the driving force behind the Gordon Head Athletic Club. The McNaughtons, in their fifties, arrived in Gordon Head in 1915, in what appears to be a “retirement” to the country after active city careers. Mrs McNaughton was president of the Vancouver President of the Local Council of Women, a non-denominational, non-sectarian affiliation of women’s organizations across the city, which acted as a lobby group on governments. “Mrs. McNaughton was in the chair and succeeded in getting a large amount of business put through during the afternoon.” (B.C. Saturday Sunset, December 10 1910) Mrs McNaughton was the “Second Lady Trustee” on the Vancouver School Board, elected in 1912.

Photo credit: Vancouver City School Board Annual, 1912

Photo credit: Annual Report of the Vancouver City School Board, 1912

In October 1913, Mrs. McNaughton attended the annual meeting of the British Columbia School Trustees Association, held in Victoria. “The afternoon session was brought to a close by the reading of an interesting paper by Mrs. Peter McNaughton on ‘Health as an Asset to the Students and Our Methods of Protecting It.’ Mrs. McNaughton brought forward in a very lucid manner the various points, dealing in a very able way with the various reasons why health is as contagious as disease.” (The Daily Colonist October 22 1913)

Mrs. McNaughton’s public roles focussed on health, children and education, interests she brought to the Gordon Head Women’s Institute and the Victoria Women’s Canadian Club. Her role as Club secretary was much more than just taking the minutes. Mrs. McNaughton co-ordinated all the club meetings (often by hand written note, when not everyone in the rural district yet had a telephone). She hosted Club executive meetings at her home and was usually on hand making tea for Club volunteer events like building their tennis court or improving their school grounds. Mrs. McNaughton was a spokesperson for the Club to outside businessmen, politicians, and the media. (She likely wrote all the promotional pieces that appeared in The Daily Colonist such as ‘Gordon Head is an Active Community’). She appears to have been instrumental in using her connections to get various prominent people to come up to Gordon Head to speak to the Club.

“After my mother died and my father was in his forties, and at the same time the McNaughton family moved to Gordon Head and Mrs. McNaughton was a woman of wide vision. Had done a lot of public work in Vancouver and I think she recognized in my father someone who could have his time used up, who was very active athletically and so on. And consequently, from that, came the Gordon Head Athletic Club….”

Ursula Jupp interview August 19 1977

W.T. Edwards, grower, Sea Scout leader and Gordon Head Athletic Club president. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

William Trevellick Edwards, his wife Elise and his young daughters Ursula and Pomona arrived in Gordon Head in February 1912. Edwards, originally from the Scilly Isles off Cornwall. “After a year spent in wheat-growing in Alberta had proved that Prairie air was too dry for an island-born farmer, he moved on to Vancouver Island…” (Ursula Jupp, Golden Harvest of Gordon Head, The Daily Colonist, July 3 1960) Like most of his neighbours, Edwards began strawberry growing. He had moderate success (but was soon to encounter the dreaded strawberry weevil that plagued the Gordon Head fruit-growers for years). He asked his brother to send a shipment of daffodil bulbs from their Scilly Isle home farm. The daffodil crop was first sold by a Victoria florist. Then Edwards decided to try selling in Calgary, with successful results. Edwards’ daughter Ursula recalled the day a $50 cheque arrived in their home. In early 1916, W.T. Edwards was starting his daffodil growing venture, and Ursula Edwards was finding academic success at High School. But all was not well at home. Elise Edwards, ill for some time, died on March 13 1916. Ursula was 13 and Pomona was 9.

With help from neighbours, W.T. Edwards raised his daughters on his own. Unlike many girls of that era who lost mothers, Ursula was not expected to leave school and run the household. A neighbour’s daughter (probably Dolly Beales) came to help out at the Edwards’ house during day. Ursula continued to attend Victoria High School and had a highly successful academic career. In a 1977 interview, Ursula Jupp continually referred to money being “tight”. Her mother’s sister in England used to send out “hand-me-down” dresses and a neighbour lent her shoes for a dance. As a way to save money, but keep informed about the war news, the Edwards also “borrowed” their neighbours’ newspaper after the Houlihans had finished reading it — this practice had an added bonus of building a strong friendship between the families.

W.T. Edwards’ barn, where the Sea Scouts climbed ropes. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

W.T. Edwards was Master of the Gordon Head Sea Scouts, who he met every Friday evening. Ursula Jupp recalled: “They learned to handle boats…learned to row and respect the sea. This was one thing my father was very keen on….” Land-based training included rope climbing — in the Edwards barn! “There is a big old barn there on the corner of Ferndale Road where you can see the chalk marks…at any rate, my father was very athletic and there was this big rope hanging down from the beams. And this is one of the things the boys had to do, climb up this rope and so on.” At a May 1917 Red Cross fundraiser, the Sea Scouts showed off their skills for the first time. “The performance of the Gordon Head Sea Scouts was heartily applauded, their manipulations of rope-knotting and splicing being particularly clever.” (The Daily Colonist, May 26 1917).

Ursula Jupp recalled that much of the Sea Scout training was in the Edwards’ kitchen: “they learned the Morse code and knots, and on our kitchen wall for a long time was a drawing of a diagram of a full-rigged ship with the full names of the sails.” Referring to this group of young boys who used to hang out in their home, Ursula observed “it was rather strange with no mother there really. What I mean to say, I’m wonder really how tidy the kitchen actually was.” In the evenings, the Edwards’ family life was cozy. Ursula recalled fondly: “at bedtime we always had hot cocoa and Ormond’s hard tack biscuits and so on, homemade butter you know, that sort of thing. My father played the tin whistle you know, listening to that and having cocoa…..”

Choosing the Executive

Choosing the executive, Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes, May 31 1916. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

“Moved by Capt. Todd, seconded by Mr. Tucker, that Mr. Jack Williamson act as our treasurer. Carried.” Jack Williamson was the local mailman before he went overseas for military service. The Williamson family lived at the corner of Tyndall Avenue and San Juan Avenue. They operated the local store and telephone exchange. This family portrait taken was donated to the Saanich Archives in December 2020.

William J. and Wilhelmina Williamson and family outside their home on Tyndall Avenue, 1918. John (Jack) Williamson in uniform on left. Standing: Bea (Alixena), Minnie, Willie, and Ruby Williamson. Seated: George, Wilhelmina and William J. Williamson. Credit: Saanich Archives

“Moved by Mr. Watson, seconded by Mr. Pearson, that Miss Jean Dunnett be our Assistant Secretary. Carried.” Assistant Secretary Jean Dunnett (back row centre in the photograph below) was a young school teacher from large family of pioneer Gordon Head residents. Two of her sisters were also involved Club activities: Jessie Belle Dunnett, aka “Miss Dunnett” (back row left) and “Flo”, back row right.

Photo credit: The Daily Colonist, March 6 1966

The first meeting

“….the notice they sent out for that first meeting. It says, I think it is right inside the front cover, it says “at exactly 8 o’clock.” My father was very precise about the time … he found that meetings and so on were frequently late in getting started whereas in his youth and homeland he’d been used to them being precisely on time. So it’s rather amusing to see that “exactly 8 o’clock.” Ursula Jupp, 1977

“A general meeting of the G.H.A.C. met on this date, the President calling the meeting to order at eight o’clock, promptness being one of the things aimed at all of our gatherings.” (January 2nd 1917)

Copy of the original invitation sent to all residents of the Gordon Head District, June 1 1916, pasted inside the front cover of the Gordon Head Athletic Club minute book. The doodles were done at a much later date. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

List of original Gordon Head Athletic Club members. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

The Club now needed members. Annual membership was $1 for “seniors” and 50 cents for “juniors” (from 14 to 18 years). The back of the minute book lists the original members, showing a wide section of the Gordon Head community. While the list of names was being written “an informal chat occupied the members until called to order by the President.”

But it looks like most people didn’t bring any money to pay — on July 7 1918 “the secretary and treasurer were asked to interview prospective members re fees.” At the July 25 1918 meeting, the treasurer reported there were 45 senior members ($45) and 14 junior members ($7) “Upon motion of Mr. Tucker, seconded by Mr. Watson, it was agreed to have membership cards printed and given to all members in good standing.”

“All for Each and Each for All”

On July 25 1916, a General Meeting was held at the Gordon Head Hall. “It was announced through notices held in public places and through announcements given at Sunday services. There were very few absentees on this occasion. The night was damp and cold, this making it out of the question to hold the meeting at the tennis courts as planned. The members gathered first at the courts to see their condition then adjourned to the hall. The meeting was called to order by the President who made a statement describing our progress since the last general meeting…” Much discussion and “expression of opinion” came from members about how the new tennis courts should be run. Just here, President Edwards stepped in and “said some splendid words which were greeted with hearty applause.” Edward’s idea of sport became the philosophy of the Gordon Head Athletic Club:

He pointed out the tendency in some clubs for the good players to stay together, thinking of their own pleasure. He would have the man who knows the game assist in every way in his power the beginners so that all may become skillful and get all the happiness possible out of the club. All for Each and Each for all.

President W.T. Edwards, July 25 1916
“All for Each and Each for all” – President W.T. Edwards’ idea of sport for the club. Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Community Supporters

We are indebted to Mr. Eberts for a good speech on the value of sport in the individual and the community.

Gordon Head Athletic Club concert August 25 1916

Prominent community members gave moral and financial support to the newly-formed Gordon Head Athletic Club.

Saanich Member of Provincial Parliament, The Hon. David McEwan Eberts K.C. (Speaker of the House) agreed to have the Club incorporated under the Benevolent Societies Act and to give a cheque for $15 which would pay the government fee for incorporation, if the Club decided to apply it to this purpose. (They accepted his kind offer). “Mr. Eberts was much interested and will gladly speak to his constituents re the value of such an organization in this neighbourhood. He will assist in any he can to ensure the success of the club.” Mr. Eberts made good on his promise. He donated four tennis racquets to the Club, so that they were able to use the money saved to buy racquets for the school children.

Eberts gave a speech at the Club’s August 25 1916 concert: “Athletics developed not only the physique but the character. It gave confidence to the young man and fitted him to take a place with credit in the world. There was much truth in that ancient and oft quoted saw “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. He could not say that his play had entirely eliminated the “dullness”, but he knew that a certain amount of it was good for everyone…..Mr. Eberts concluded by expressing the hope that all would co-operate in making the club a real factor in the life of the community.” (TheDaily Colonist August 26 1916)

David McEwen Eberts. Photo credit: Victoria Daily Times January 11 1912

Rev. Dr. J.M. Miller, of the Theological College in Edmonton was spending the summer in Gordon Head. At the Club’s first general meeting on June 7 1916 Miller was called upon to say a few words on the value of sport in the community and “he cheerfully did so, assuring the club of his sympathy and support while with us. He said he knew of nothing that would do more than stimulate a community spirit than such an organization as this.”

The Club’s honorary president was Mr. Luke Pither, a local businessman — Pither and Leiser Importers and Wholesale Wines Liquors and Cigars — who retired to run 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 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)]  As we’ll see, almost as soon as the Club was formed, Pither helped the young members in a very practical way.

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

Page 3 – Mr. Pither’s Playfield, Tennis Courts and Swimming Lessons