The Story of the Gordon Head Athletic Club

The Winter Season

“All members were asked to keep in mind the long winter evenings and to think of plans for same in which the G.H.A.C. may be of use.”

Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes September 30 1916

Once the Summer tennis and swimming season had ended, Gordon Head Athletic Club members needed something to do in Fall and Winter months. At the September 30 1916 meeting, the Club started to plan indoor recreational activities. These included: an indoor gymnasium, singing lessons and monthly dances.

An indoor gymnasium

“The original school…equipped with a few ropes and bars and the addition of a sawdust floor was used as a gymnasium, giving pleasure to many, crude though it would look today.” (Ursula Jupp, The Daily Colonist May 29 1960)

An indoor gymnasium could be a good way to spend long winter evenings. In 1914 a new two room school building had been built, and the old building moved to the back of the property. In Fall 1916 a committee investigated the possibilities of using the old schoolhouse for gymnasium purposes. Permission was granted to spend money as needed on lighting and equipment. By January 1917 the gym was ready to use. “A simple strong equipment had been put into place consisting of rings, bars, ladders etc.…It was arranged that Mr. Tucker meet the boys and men every Wednesday night and that Captain Todd should meet the women and girls every Monday from 7 to 9 P.M.”

“Captain Todd… spoke very briefly to the club regarding the uses and abuses of a gym. He pointed out the need of unselfishness on the part of the big people in dealing with the younger children. The big boy should help the little chap and teach him to be cautious while learning the various stunts. The same advice applies to the girls.”

At the first Annual Meeting on April 30 1917, Mr. Tucker and Captain Todd said much had been accomplished by the youngsters. They suggested an improvement of putting in a floor. “The saw dust proved very dirty. Someone wondered if the school board would furnish lumber for the floor if club members agreed to place it. The question was left over.” (We don’t know what happened, it’s not further mentioned) On September 20 1917 “Moved by Mr. Somers, seconded by Miss Dunnett, that an amount of $2.10 be paid to Capt. Todd for money he had paid out for rope for the gym.” There is one last mention on April 29 1918, “The Gymnasium is still popular.”

Mr. Watson’s singing classes

“Well, there were, of course, Mr. Watson’s singing classes in the Wintertime which were very nice…”  

Ursula Jupp, 1977

President W.T. Edwards “suggested that a very important branch should be teaching of music to our young people. Mr. Watson, who is known widely and well as a choir leader and singer, was asked to accept the convenorship of the club’s committee on music and he very kindly agreed to give each and every Friday evening to this work.” The first singing practice took place on Friday October 6th at 7.30 P.M. (Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes September 30 1916)

George Fraser Watson, fruit-grower and Saanich School Trustee, was a well-known singer and choir master. Here is a good overview of Watson’s musical career: “Mr. Watson had been a familiar figure in the musical world of this city for a generation. He was conductor of the choir of Calvary Baptist Church for thirteen years, and for many years past had been associated with the choir of First United Church. He was a member of the Victoria Male Choir… (The Daily Colonist, February 22 1930) Watson first met his wife Elizabeth at a choir practice in 1890s Victoria. They were still singing together many years later, at the July 15 1916 South Saanich Women’s Institute Flower Show “Mr. and Mrs. Watson of Gordon Head gave a concert in the evening.” At a 1917 Empire Day concert at Gordon Head Hall, Miss Marjorie Watson (soprano) performed “The Song The Kettle Is Singing” and a piano duet.

Club minutes show the continued success of the singing classes:

 “Mr. Watson gave a good report of the work in his department and felt that there was much reason for encouragement from the manner in which the young people were attending to their singing.” (November 20 1916)

“Mr. Edwards reported for the music committee in the absence of the convenor. He reported an ever increasing interest as shown by attention and attendance.” (January 2nd 1917)

“Mr. Edwards reported for Mr. Watson on the music committee, telling just how much this work has meant in the community and sincerely hoping the classes might open in the autumn under the same leadership.” (Annual Meeting)

Dances at Gordon Head Hall

Dances and parties were a key part of the Gordon Head Athletic Club’s social programme. Dances were held at the Gordon Head Hall, built in 1898 and located at the top of Tyndall Avenue near present day Ash Road and Grandview Drive. Gordon Head historian Ursula Jupp has noted “During the years of the First World War, Red Cross work and the fundraising concerts and dances connected with it meant frequent gatherings [at the Gordon Head Hall].” While the Club’s dances had a primary social function, their secondary purpose was to raise money for patriotic purposes like the Red Cross.

Gordon Head Hall (originally located at the top of Tyndall Avenue) was the scene of many Gordon Head Athletic Club dances that raised money for the Red Cross. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

The Club minutes show the level of planning that went into having a dance, almost in a comical level of minutiae!

 “Mr. G.A. Pearson was asked to take charge of a committee on dancing and accepted. Mr. Pearson moved, seconded by Mrs. Aitkens, that members be allowed the privilege of inviting their friends to these functions. Carried.” (September 30 1916)

“The president to see that the room was made ready. Tickets to be prepared. Miss Flo Dunnett to write them. Mr. Edwards to secure a door keeper. Music to be given by H.A. and R. McNaughton. Decorations committee, Miss Somers and a group of her choosing.” (May 1919)

Committees were formed to write and sell tickets (usually twenty-five cents), take charge of music and prepare refreshments. “Ice cream to be served. Arrangements to be in hands of the social committee.”

And of course — the “clean up committee”. It was not a matter of just showing up. The Gordon Head Hall was used for multiple purposes such as meetings and church services. So, some work had to be done. Dorothy (Poulton) Ramsay, who lived in Gordon Head during the WWI years, said: “when we had a dance we had to haul all the benches out and we had to take them back in after the dance was over, which was hard work.”

It was even harder work to get the Hall ready for the Club’s first 1916 dance. On October 13 1916, “It was decided that the Hall required a thorough cleaning out before the dancing committee put on their proposed Halloween party. Mr. Tucker, Mr. William Edwards, Mrs. Aitkens and the Secretary agreed to attend to this task. Five dollars was allowed for expenses.” On November 20 1916, “Mr. Tucker reported that the ‘clean up committee’ had done the work assigned to them for supervision…They had purchased transparent paper for the windows of the Hall, a pair of hinges for the front door, and some glass panes to take the place of broken windows. The amount this expended was ordered paid. It totalled $3.10. The committee was commended for its interest and efforts on behalf of the club.”

A pillow case Hallowe’en party

The first dance of the newly formed Gordon Head Athletic Club was a Halloween “sheet or pillow case party”. “Young and old alike came robed in ghostly costumes, manufactured of sheets and pillow cases, with white masks, gloves and shoes” (Victoria Daily Times November 1 1916) “The decorations were thoroughly in keeping with the occasion, and the successful character of these was due to the energy and enterprise of G.A. Pearson and his committee.” Here’s Secretary McNaughton’s wonderful description of the party: “Following an old custom, the children cut Jack o lanterns from pumpkins and oranges. In the oranges were tiny candles and they were placed on the window sills. The pumpkins were suspended from greenery here and there about the room.”

The party went well: “Good music and an excellent supper provided by the ladies. A good attendance and the sum of $5.10 handed to the Sec’ty for Red Cross.” The Club’s “juniors” (14-18 year olds) had their Halloween festivities on the same night as the adults. The juniors were allowed to share the fun until nine thirty and they were very happy in their play.” The juniors (and those younger) may have stayed and gone to sleep while their parents partied. Dorothy (Poulton) Ramsay, Gordon Head resident during WWI, recalled “When they used to give dances, you know, people would bring their children and make them comfortable on a bench with a pillow, blanket and other things.”

A club dance for Mr Fullerton

The Club’s next dance (November 24 1917) was not so well attended, “probably because of several counter attractions and in addition to this the weather was bad, very bad.” The Club only received $6.00 was received, but this was all required to pay expenses. There was nothing left to donate to the Red Cross.

At the beginning of January, the Club held a much better attended “farewell” dance for a member who had enlisted for overseas service. Lieutenant James Thornton Fullerton was son of fruit grower John Fullerton and sister of Miss Fullerton of the Club executive. The members discussed when to hold the dance. “Capt. Todd volunteered to interview the convener of the music committee in order to get his consent to hold the dance after the singing class on Friday evening, Jan. 5th, provided it would in no way interfere with his work. Captain Todd agreed to inform the Secretary of Mr. Watson’s reply so that notices might be sent out as necessary. This arrangement satisfied the Club and was agreed to upon a show of hands.”

“The plans agreed upon were carried out to the letter,” wrote Secretary McNaughton in ‘Report of the Club Dance in honour of Mr. Fullerton’. In addition to the Gordon Head residents, a number of guests came from the City, Cedar Hill and surrounding communities, “all adding their share to a very successful evening.” 

The minutes describe the evening: “The children’s games in which young and old participated began at eight o’clock. At nine the floor was made ready for dancing and a jolly evening was spent by all. A simple supper was served at eleven o’clock and dancing was resumed with added zest.”

The dance was a success, but the Club minutes also show some failings: “In arranging our committee we made two mistakes which should be guarded against in future. We made no one responsible for the lighting and heating of the hall and we failed to arrange a clean up committee. Perhaps these two committees might be arranged alphabetically among our membership. It would a plan worth trying among the young men of the singing class as an experiment.” (Report of the Club Dance for Mr. Fullerton, 1917)

White shoes to match a white dress!

At that time, a white dress required white stockings and white shoes. Here’s how Ursula (Edwards) Jupp managed to get dressed for a dance: “Things were not all that loose money wise, and my mother’s sister in England used to send out…I had a first cousin some years old and these dresses used to come out. I had a dress that would now be considered smashing. A white crepe de Chine, lovely heavy stuff. There was a dance at the Gordon Head Hall and I had no white shoes to wear with this, and Mrs. McNaughton…her daughter Helen had a pair of white elk skin brogues about two sizes two big for me which she gave me, which I wore to the dance with my crepe de Chine dress.”

Marjorie Watson had no problem finding white shoes to match her white dress! Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Darts and Hearts being very much in evidence

Next up was the St. Valentine’s Day dance. Every family was asked to pay fifty cents and to send something for supper. A friend of the club was to provide the music at his own expense. All proceeds were to be donated to the Red Cross or some patriotic purpose.

Here is a report of the dance: “The Gordon Head Athletic Club excelled all its previous efforts in entertaining on St. Valentine’s Night, when its dance committee, whose convener is Mr. G.A. Pearson of Scarboro Heights, welcomed the whole community to a well arranged and capably managed dance at Gordon Head Hall. The room was effectively decorated in St. Valentine’s emblems: darts and hearts being very much in evidence in the scheme. An orchestra of three pieces added in no small measure to the success of the event, and the supper was also much enjoyed by all.”

The dance was a decided success: “The entire proceeds, totally over $50 will be given to the Red Cross funds.” (The Daily Colonist February 18 1917) See the Red Cross report for February 1917 – Gordon Head Athletic Club, $57 (Victoria Daily Times March 3 1917)

A few other Club dances followed that spring. At the first Annual Meeting on April 30 1917, Mr. Pearson reported for the Dance Committee, showing that “all money over and above expenses had been handed to the Red Cross Society, and that the best of good feeling had characterized the work of his committee.”

“All were pleased and grateful for our interest”

Mik Roberts was one of the Gordon Head men who received parcels from the Gordon Head Athletic Club. L-R – Mrs. May Aitkens, parcel committee convenor, Mik Roberts, Mrs. Estlin, Emily Estlin. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

“Mrs. Aitkens’ report for the parcel committee was then made. It told of the packing of parcels for our men at the front and was most interesting.”

Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes January 2 1917

At the Gordon Head Athletic Club’s end of tennis season dinner in September 1916, President W.T. Edwards made a stirring speech “regarding those who are absent from us fighting the Empire’s battles in all earnestness on far-off battlefields, and the hope was expressed that all might lend a hand in some way in the near future as evidence of the Club’s interest.”

The Club immediately showed their interest. On September 30 1916, upon a motion of Mrs. Aitkens, seconded by Mrs. Pearson, “It was decided to send a Christmas parcel to the men of the district now serving the Empire.” The Club appointed a committee consisting of Mrs. Aitkens, convenor, Mrs. Watson, Miss Watson, Miss Fullerton and the Secretary to attend to the purchasing and packaging of gifts. They had $20 to spend, the proceeds of their Thanksgiving musical concert.

“Thanksgiving night, when a varied musical programme was given before a big audience, the proceeds being devoted to the sending of a Christmas remembrance to men from the district who are now serving overseas.” (Victoria Daily Times November 1 1916)

The Parcel committee met on Thursday October 19 1916: “all goods packed carefully by committee and others interested. A personal message sent to each man. Boxes contained good eats and smokes only. Committee names and a copy of Victoria papers enclosed.” Minutes, November 20 1916: “Miss Somers moved, seconded by Miss Dunnett, that this committee receive the thanks of the Club and that a slight shortage on account of postage rate change be made right.”

These are the Gordon Head men who received parcels from the Gordon Head Athletic Club (first names given where known): Bert Beales, Ebenezer Boorman, Mr. Edwards, Stanley Featherston, James Thornton Fullerton, Arthur Mallett, Mr. Murray, Mik Roberts, George Rosson, Thomas Todd, Mr. Wallace, Jack Williamson.

At the first Annual Meeting on April 30 1917, “The correspondence was then gone into and consisted mostly of letters of thanks from our fighting men at the front, who had been remembered by the Club during the year.” One of the men, young Stanley Featherston, sent the Club a silver cup from France, to be competed for by the “lady members” of the Club. (This became the Featherston Cup at the annual swimming galas). His parents presented the cup and were made honorary members.

The Gordon Head Athletic Club continued to send parcels to the men overseas. The Treasurer’s Report for 1917-1918 year showed: “a balance of Twenty-Dollars, on hand, after defraying all expenses including a donation to Red Cross amounting to $47.70 and amt. of $20.00 for parcels to our men overseas at the war.”

On September 30 1918, “An executive meeting of the G.H.A.C. was held in the Gordon Head Hall on Monday at eight p.m. to arrange for our yearly Christmas remembrances to members of the Club now overseas on Active Service. All present were desirous of sending parcels as usual and $30.00 was allowed to cover the expense of same. Moved by H.A. McNaughton, seconded by Miss Somers, that Mrs. Aitkens should be Convenor of parcel committee with power to select her helpers. Carried.”

Finally, at the third Annual Meeting on May 9 1919, “the Committee on Parcels gave their report and received the hearty thanks of Executive. At this point letters of thanks from the soldiers who had been remembered were presented. All were pleased and grateful for our interest.”

Page 5 -“There was only about six years I suppose” – What happened next