The Story of the Gordon Head Athletic Club

“There was only about six years I suppose…”

Q. What happened to the Gordon Head Athletic Club?

U.J. It just gradually, when Mrs. McNaughton and my father let it go really….

Q. What time would that be?

U.J. That would be in the early 1920s. There was only about six years I suppose…

Ursula Jupp speaks to Sharon Manson, August 1977

The Gordon Head Athletic Club’s first year ended with the first Annual Meeting on April 30 1917. “There were a few appropriate remarks from the President who gave a short resume of the outstanding features of the Club’s first year and then called for a report from the Secretary. The report given was a condensed outline of our work as a club from its organization to the present and it was received and approved as read.” Reports were read showing a very satisfactory year in tennis, swimming, football, dances, singing lessons and the gymnasium.

Officers were elected for the ensuing year, as follows: Honorary President, Mr. Luke Pither, president, Mr. W.T. Edwards, re-elected by acclimation; vice-president, Mr. G.A. Pearson, secretary, Mrs. Peter McNaughton, re-elected by acclimation, treasurer, Miss Annie Somers.

“Very hearty votes of thanks were given to all the retiring officers. All joined in singing of the National Anthem and the meeting adjourned to meet at the call of the President.”

Thus ended the first year of the Gordon Head Athletic Club and began its second, which proceeded much like the first: the tennis courts were made ready and manned by volunteers; Mr. Edwards taught swimming; there was the annual basket picnic and swimming gala at the end of August and the Halloween and Christmas parties at Gordon Head Hall. Parcels continued to be sent to the men overseas. This pattern of events repeated itself over the next few years, with a few small changes.

The meeting was opened by a short speech from Mr. Edwards dealing with the past, present and future of the club. He placed the responsibility for its usefulness upon the shoulders of each member and suggested that all should help, each in his own way.

Gordon Head Athletic Club Annual Meeting, April 29 1918

One change was the annual membership fee. By Spring 1918, the Club had 111 members — 23 juniors, 88 seniors and 4 honorary members — but it had not collected membership fees. By this point, the war had been going for almost four years, and Gordon Head was pressed to give its money to patriotic purposes. At the executive meeting on April 22 1918, “Much discussion took place over the question of collecting the annual fee for the club as it had been omitted since our organization because of innumerable demands for war work.”

The executive decided to collect a reduced fee. At the April 29 1918 Annual Meeting, “It was moved by Miss Beales and seconded by Mrs. W. Tucker that we pay our annual fee of 50 cents for seniors and 25 cents for juniors.”

By 1918 the annual membership had been reduced. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Mrs. Peter McNaughton continued to be the Club’s Secretary. Back in summer 1916, the minutes were full of Secretary McNaughton’s enthusiastic descriptions of events and various inspirational speeches. By August 1918, her enthusiasm had waned. This entry from the minute book is a clear example: “An executive of the G.H.A.C. held at the home of the Secretary in early August resulted in developing a program of events under charge of prominent club members which was carried out on August [blank] 1918 as follows….and no further information is written…

“carried out as follows…” and nothing. The Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes for Summer 1918 show Secretary McNaughton’s enthusiasm has waned. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

All work during Autumn and Winter of 1918 was seriously affected by the Flu Ban.

The Gordon Head Athletic Club’s programme of singing lessons, dances and the gymnasium helped fill the long Winter nights in this rural community. But the “Spanish Flu” put an end to all that. On October 8 1918, the Municipality of Saanich imposed the “Flu Ban”. Written in the minutes: “On account of Influenza the committee program was interrupted. The Health Authorities placed a ban upon dancing and all public assembly.” The Municipality of Saanich lifted most of its ban by mid-January, but Gordon Head School — closed since October 8 1918 — had been hit by the ‘flu (half the school was ill) and the school did not re-open until the beginning of February 1919.

In the meantime, the War had ended and Gordon Head men began to return. The Club decided to host a “Welcome Home Dance” on May 23 1919 at 8 p.m. “The Secretary was instructed to write invitations to our returned soldiers asking their presence, and was asked to send a note of congratulation to Mr. Arthur Mallett who was fortunate enough to receive a Military medal for courage under trying circumstances.”

Unlike the delightful descriptions of the Club dances in the 1916-1917 season, we hear nothing of this Welcome Home Dance. In fact, there are no more minutes until this last entry:

The 1920 Annual Meeting, Gordon Head Athletic Club minutes. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

The fourth Annual Meeting of the Gordon Head Athletic Club was held in Gordon Head Hall on May 12 1920. There was a somewhat dour tone: “The president of the club Mr. W.T. Edwards made an opening address in which he outlined the club’s activities during the year and discussed quite frankly some of its shortcomings. The minutes of last annual meeting were read and approved. The treasurer was complimented upon her ability to find funds to keep pace with expenses.”

This last comment is telling — the world was now in a post-war economic depression (The Daily Colonist has constant references to the “high” / “increased” cost of living). The Gordon Head strawberry growers also had a difficult time — not only were they fighting an ever-losing battle with the dreaded strawberry weevil, but “a great deal of injury was done to strawberry plants in December 1919, when a week of very severe weather was experienced. This freeze injured the young plants and accounted for the great shortage which existed at planting time in 1920 and the resulting high prices which were asked for plants.” (Fifteenth Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture for the year 1920)

We hear one last thing of the Gordon Head Athletic Club in The Daily Colonist on May 21 1921: “The fifth Annual Meeting of the Gordon Head Athletic Association took place last Tuesday night in the Gordon Head Hall, with the president, Mr. W.T. Edwards occupying the chair. About 75 members of the organization attended the gathering…The election of officials for the following season resulted as follows: Hon. President, Mr. Luke Pither; President, Mr. W. Ley; vice-president, Mr. W.T. Edwards (who refused nomination for the presidency); secretary, Miss Ursula Edwards; treasurer, Miss Marjorie Watson. The convenors of the following committees struck were: tennis, Mr. Ley; social, Miss Neary Clarke; swimming, Mr. W.T. Edwards; while convenors of the boxing and basketball activities will be elected at the next gathering.”

The Club was branching out into new sports (boxing and basketball) and, after five years at the helm, Mr. W.T. Edwards had stepped down as President…and his daughter Ursula was now the Secretary. The Gordon Head Athletic Club’s executive had now passed to the new generation — the “promising young people” for whom the Club first had been created.

What happened next?

The Gordon Head Athletic Club faded away into the 1920s, but it’s no surprise as many of its original supporters became busy with other activities. Let’s check in and see what happened next. First, our “interested residents” who had formed the club, Mr. Watson, Mrs. McNaughton and Mr. Edwards.

Singing instructor George Fraser Watson served several terms as Saanich School trustee. In 1919, Watson became Ward 3 Councillor and was Reeve of Saanich in 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923. Watson was instrumental in getting water piped to Gordon Head. Watson also kept busy in the musical world as President of the Victoria Musical Festival Association. “To that latter body he gave the most indefatigable service, and, active since its organization, his term in the chair was marked by vigorous forward policy.” (The Daily Colonist February 22 1930)

George F. Watson, School Trustee and Reeve of Saanich. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

The Daily Colonist January 12 1920

Mrs. Peter McNaughton continued to be active in public life. At the July 1928 Gordon Head School Sports Day, “Mrs. McNaughton, President of the Women’s Canadian Club, presented to the school a framed copy of the Canadian Coat-of-Arms. Mrs. McNaughton was the recipient of a charming bouquet of cream and pink roses, delphiniums and buff lilies…” In the 1930s, Mrs. McNaughton was organizer and chairman of the Gordon Head Current Events Club, meetings attended by many former members of the Gordon Head Athletic Club.

Mrs. Peter McNaughton in later years, still active in local community affairs. The Daily Colonist, January 25 1939

W.T. Edwards continued to teach swimming and lead the Gordon Head Sea Scouts. On land, he was beginning — finally — to have some financial success in the form of his daffodils. “Mr. Edwards has no less than 1,000,000 bulbs under the ground, covering some five acres. There are twenty commercial varieties and fifty varieties altogether. Besides daffodils, he also grows tulips and narcissus.” (Daffodils are Rolling East, The Daily Colonist, April 2 1929)

W.T. Edwards, on the Gordon Head Sea Scout boat. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

The Daily Colonist, March 19 1938

And what about the “young people of the district?” The Gordon Head Athletic Club lasted for a short period of time, but it had long-term impacts. The Club’s values of community collaboration and support for young people helped these people to build strong future lives and they themselves helped the young people of the next generation.

Marjorie Watson became a teacher and eventually returned to teach at Gordon Head School. Here’s Marjorie with a new group of “promising young people” of Gordon Head:

Marjorie Watson and her class at Gordon Head School, 1927. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Bee Williamson had a long career with B.C. Telephone. In retirement, she played an active part in the Gordon Head community. Bee was a trustee in the Gordon Head Mutual Improvement Society and a Girl Guide leader. Ursula Jupp profiled Bee in this April 19 1964 article.

The Daily Colonist April 19 1964

Ursula Edwards was Gordon Head’s star student at Victoria High School. Ursula was editor of the school newspaper and a member of the school debating club (and still walking six miles home every day!) In 1918, Ursula Edwards had the highest Junior Matriculation results in all of Victoria and won the Governor General’s Silver Medal. In 1919, Ursula again had the highest marks for Senior Matriculation and won the Governor General’s Medal.

The Daily Colonist, July 22 1919

Ursula next attended the Provincial Normal School and qualified as a teacher. But she was Burnt Out. In a 1977 interview, Ursula noted that her health was bad at the end of her school days (too thin) and she attributed it to all the walking back and forth she had to do. Ursula took a year off — the year she was Gordon Head Athletic Club Secretary — before teaching for two years, then got married. (All this happened by the time she was 21 years old!) Ursula later returned to teaching — history and geography, which she loved, because it was about people and places. She also became President of the Friends of the Greater Victoria Public Library and promoted children’s literature and Young Canada Book Week.

In the 1950s, Ursula Jupp took a journalism course and started writing about the history of Gordon Head. Her stories appeared in The Daily Colonist’s “Islander” magazine throughout the 1960s and many of these stories formed the basis for her 1975 book From Cordwood to Campus. Ursula’s 1977 candid oral history interviews (now in Saanich Archives) tell us even more about early life in Gordon Head.

Promising young people of this district…then…

Here’s a snapshot of the young people of Gordon Head at the 1919 Saanich Fair, when they won a prize for school garden produce.

Girls from Gordon Head School at the Saanich Fair, 1919. Back 3rd from left Kay Cullum. Back 2nd from right: Pomona Edwards. Centre front: Mary Cullum. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

…..and many years later….

Here they are in 1978, still active in Gordon Head, when they worked on getting the historic Dodd House moved to Lambrick Park.

Gordon Head girls grown up, 1978. Back row: Bee Williamson, Kay (Dunnett) Jack, and Maude (Aitkens) Hope. Front row: Unidentified, Mary Cullum, unidentified, Kay Cullum. Standing on right: Ursula (Edwards) Jupp. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

What was a short period seemed to me very interesting, and to anyone in Gordon Head. And it made good community.

Ursula Jupp, August 1977

Sources and acknowledgements

The minute book of the Gordon Head Athletic Club was found by the son-in-law of President W.T. Edwards while he was tearing down an old barn on the family property. The minute book was in the possession of Edwards’ daughter, historian Ursula Jupp, in the 1970s. Eventually, the minute book arrived in the Saanich Archives in 2007. I first learned about the minute book in 2017, when Saanich Archives, as part of “Saanich Remembers WWI”, shared on their website selections about the Club’s WWI fundraising activities. In Spring 2020, I was able to look at scanned pages of the entire Gordon Head Athletic Club minute book. I began to read and transcribe the early 1900s handwriting to discover a whole world of tennis court rules, “basket picnics” and swimming galas!

The Gordon Head Athletic Club’s activities were often reported in the Victoria newspaper, The Daily Colonist (digitized at These contemporary news items gave context to the Club minutes, as did a series of 1977 oral history interviews with Gordon Head residents, most who had been school children in the WWI years and members of the Gordon Head Athletic Club. Also very important were Ursula Jupp’s many articles on Gordon Head people and places that appeared in The Daily Colonist’s Sunday “Islander” magazine in the 1960s and 1970s, and her book Cordwood to Campus. Finally, I was able to illustrate this project through the extensive collection of early 1900 Gordon Head photographs, donated to the Saanich Archives by former Gordon Head residents and their families. Key families are the Aitkens, Watsons, and Williamsons.

A very big thank you to those people who shared their personal stories with the Saanich Archives by donating photographs, documents and memories. Also a very big thank you to Saanich Archives for initially transcribing some of the minutes and making them publicly available online. A special thank you to Archives Specialist Suzanne Hervieux for her continued enthusiasm in scanning documents and sharing information. In doing so, everyone demonstrated the Gordon Head Athletic Club’s collaborative motto “All for Each and Each for All”.