The Story of the Gordon Head Athletic Club

Mr. Pither’s Play Field

“….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

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.

“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, 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. Gordon Head Athletic club minutes May 31 1916. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

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. “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 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. 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.” 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”. Today the site of the “Pither Play Field” forms part of Gordon Head’s Lambrick Park.

Courts worthy of this district

Our earnest and energetic representative upon the school board secured the use of the school grounds for tennis courts….

Gordon Head is an Active Community, The Daily Colonist August 13 1916
Tennis was a popular game in early Saanich. The Gordon Head Athletic Club’s tennis courts probably looked similar to this home-made court at the Cedar Hill residence of the McMorran family. Photo credit: Saanich Archives


Tennis was a popular pastime in early 1900s Saanich, so one of the first objects of the Gordon Head Athletic Club was to build tennis courts. There was extra land on the school grounds. Club member George F. Watson, Saanich School Trustee, won the Saanich School Board’s approval: “The board will gladly consent to tennis courts on school grounds provided only that they are put to no expense in the arrangements for same and that property holders on either side are protected from intrusion or inconvenience because of the granting of this privilege.”

Building the courts was a group effort. These were earth courts, so the ground had to be prepared. Thanks to Club member and Saanich Councillor Mr. William Somers, the Municipality of Saanich’s grader and their team and a man were furnished for a Saturday afternoon in early July 1916, “and did very much toward making the courts worthy of this district. Willing hands among the club members had taken hold of the work with a will and the President was able to announce that the lines of the court were all in place and all was in readiness for the nets and posts.” Heavy rain in mid July made it possible to roll the new courts and put them in first-class shape. “There had been little hope of this until the autumn but now our tennis courts are certain to be satisfactory and the work of many willing members was freely given in making them just right.”

The Club spent $3 on tape to line the courts, but the staples for the first court (presumably for the nets?) “were made of wire that was gathered up here and there about the Head.” The net and posts cost $21.35. Club friend and local Member of Provincial Parliament The Hon. D.M. Eberts donated four racquets. The Club executive decided “to dispose of same to members and to use money realized in purchase of racquets for school children of the club.”

The roster of responsible seniors to be present at the tennis grounds every evening. Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes June 25 1916. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Here’s how the courts operated — the result of much discussion among the members! School children could use the courts on weekdays until 4 p.m. and on Saturdays by arrangement. A responsible senior person was to be present at the grounds every Monday – Saturday evening. When members arrived, they were to register for play on an old blackboard taken from the old school house. The court gates were to close at 9 p.m. And of course…everyone must wear tennis shoes!

“The Secretary was asked to have posted a notice on the grounds asking all players to wear tennis shoes, no one to be allowed to use court otherwise”.

The Daily Colonist September 26 1916

At the close of play all adjourned to the Gordon Head Hall, where the ladies had arranged a simple supper which was beautifully served by ten young ladies of the club under the direction of Mrs. H.H. Grist and Mrs. W. Tucker. The tables were decorated with great taste in the colors of the club, purple and white, these colors being worn by the assistants.

Gordon Head Club Winds Up Season, The Daily Colonist September 26 1916

“The end of the season tennis tournament of the Gordon Head Athletic Club was held on the club courts at the public school grounds on Saturday under perfect weather conditions, the grounds under the direction of the president, Mr. W.T. Edwards, being in fine condition and gay with bunting.”

The members and their friends much enjoyed the keenly contested games, which, much to the delight of all, were won in the finals by this season’s players. Miss Lottie Watson and Mr. Gordon Clark won the mixed doubles; Miss Lottie Watson the ladies’ singles, and Mr. Gordon Lindquist the men’s singles. Mr. H.A. McNaughton and Mr. G.A. Pearson acted as referees.

The tennis courts were closed during the Fall and Winter, but soon as Spring came, “the courts were reported to be in good condition for season’s play, the President having personally seen the work through with a band of willing assistants.” (April 30 1917) The executive decided “to put into effect rules governing last year’s play on tennis courts as given on page 16 and page 20 of minute book. Courts to be closed at 9.30.” A new roster of responsible seniors to supervise was made, and the treasurer was asked to purchase a dozen balls to be available for members. The tennis courts continued to be popular every Spring and Summer. We last hear about the courts on May 19 1919: “A tennis tournament arranged by Miss Ursula Edwards was a distinct success.”

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 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.”

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

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.”

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.”

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.”

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

Page 4 – The Winter Season – a gymnasium, singing classes, dances and the parcel committee