Social Organizations in Victoria

Learn more about social organizations by looking in the digital archive here and here

This website recognizes two types of social organizations:

  • Community Service Organizations – organizations designed for supporting those in need in Victoria which developed into supporting soldiers and soldiers’ families overseas and at home.  This was the social safety net of its time, providing financial support, recreation, entertainment and social community for those unable to provide fully for themselves.
  • Social Organizations – these clubs, frequented mainly by the upper class, were created for networking and business among the rich.  These clubs were exclusive, supporting those on the inside first, and only reaching out to the masses when in need of financial support.  Support for the war was primarily given through fundraising, not through service.

Social organizations in Victoria in the 1910’s were divided along class lines.  Upperclassmen engaged in social organizations requiring capital investment, yachting for example, or business and social connections, like the Union Club.  Athletics organizations and service clubs catered to the middle and working classes, creating heroes the communities could rally behind or serving those in need.  Many clubs encouraged military involvement by celebrating enlisted members and supporting them and their families through fundraising activities.  Religious organizations also provided social activities, acting as a social and financial safety net for some and providing new roles for others.

The Royal Victoria Yacht Club (RVYC) was an active social organization in pre-war Victoria.  Membership included the famous (and rich) James Dunsmuir, a local coal baron and politician, and C.D. Taylor, an Easterner whose “ketch-rigged auxiliary yacht…Anemone had the highest Lloyd’s rating of any wooden yacht in America [$75,000 at that time].”[1]  The club’s move to the exclusive Uplands subdivision, along with the push for international regattas and central involvement in the 1913 Victoria Carnival Week, made them the hub of upper class leisure in Victoria.  The RVYC’s catering to wealth and exclusivity caused concern among City of Victoria councillors who’s back and forth support of the May regattas of 1908-1913 showed an increasing class-consciousness, but also a business savvy for when money could be made.[2]

The Yacht Club perpetuated the old world ways and traditions that came with exclusive clubs. Because membership was so exclusive, the RVYC shared many prominent members with the Union Club of British Columbia and other wealthy social organizations.[3]  The RVYC had no patience for those who wanted a modern country club which would cater to all sportsmen and on 12 July 1912 members voted to keep the tailored focus for men of the marine trade and class.  Many members of the old order clubs enlisted as officers when war broke out.  Of note is Arthur Crease, a champion rower and yachtsman for the RVYC and prominent church member in Oak Bay, who enlisted as a lieutenant with the 88th Battalion in 1916.  Crease’s older brother Lindley was a lawyer, politician, and member of the Union Club.

Like the RVYC, the Victoria Golf Club (VGC) viewed itself as connected to the military’s officer class, many times putting forward motions to extend privileges of the club to officers free of charge.  They also made Gen. Sir Arthur Currie a life-time member with no dues required.  Currie played the course multiple times in 1919 as did H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.[4]  While other organizations put on fundraising events, the Golf Club raised a significant amount of money simply through donations from their wealthy members.  The VGC’s local societal elites had purchased a total of $4,500 worth of war bonds and donated $2,787.80 to the Red Cross Society by April 1919.  Five months after the Armistice there were still 58 men and two women listed as on active service from a total membership of 415.[5]

The more general athletics organizations catered to a more varied class.  Most communities had their own athletic associations which produced local sports heroes and even some internationally recognized athletes.  Victoria West Athletic Association’s Joe Bayley was the Lightweight Boxing Champion of Canada from 1912-1913 and defended the title at least eight times.[6]  During the War, Bayley was offered bouts in the United States and Australia due to his popularity.[7]  The 5’3½” Bayley was an all-round athlete raised in Esquimalt and inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.[8]

Many of the workers at the Jordan River hydro-electric plant, and later the new community’s citizens, joined their local association’s basketball team and played competitive games against other teams throughout the South Island including against Victoria’s Young Men’s Christian Association, Otter Point, and even the Christ Church Cathedral team.  A women’s team was formed by Jordan River residents in the early 1920’s.[9]

These associations not only provided an opportunity for leisure and friendly competition, but they also provided a social service.  The YMCA and its sister organization the Young Women’s Christian Association took care of the city’s ‘wayward youth’ and problem adults.  The two organizations also provided care for soldiers in Victoria and overseas through accommodations, lectures, and “entertainment features.”  The YMCA had tents at the military camps at Sidney, Willows Beach, and Beacon Hill as well as their permanent location in the city.[10]  The YMCA saw a rise in enrolment at the beginning of the war because “the war [had] created increased interest in physical fitness, which has given the Association an opportunity for enlarged community service” including “teaching swimming, supervising playgrounds, and promoting physical training” among boys.[11]  The role of the Women’s Association (YWCA), which returned from a period of inactivity in 1916, was to provide community service and leisure activities for women.  Wartime committees and the need for female labourers on farms also increased social activity and the overall scope of the Association.[12]

Religious social organizations also saw a change in women’s roles in the 1910’s.  Helen Crease was active in the congregation of St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church in Oak Bay from its beginnings in 1911 and was a member of the small “Group of Seven,” seven women from the church who attended a wood carving class taught by fellow parishioner Miss Edith Hendy.  The women designed and carved the oak reredos (decorative wood panels behind the altar) for the new church, a project likely the first of its kind taken on entirely by women within the Anglican Church.[13]  Other social organizations still encouraged a less active role for women.  As the report of the Church Army in the Diocesan Gazette put it, the recreation rooms for wives in the garrison towns were there so “they can sew, chat, and have tea.”[14]

Other social organizations active in Victoria 1910-1925:

  • Victoria Amateur Swimming Association
  • YMCA Swim Club (one of the most competitive and dominant swimming clubs before the outbreak of war)
  • Victoria Ladies Swim Club
  • Victoria and Island Athletic Association (founding members in January 1914 included Arthur Currie)
  • Victoria West Athletic Association
  • James Bay Athletic Association
  • Elks Swim Club
  • Boy Scouts
  • Chinese Benevolent Association
  • Foundation Swim Club
  • Gorge Dance Club
  • Victoria Ladies Swim Club (this club hosted the only outdoor swim galas on the Selkirk Waterway during the war and merged with the VASC in 1918)
  • The Electric Tennis Club (later the Oak Bay Tennis Club)
  • Victoria and District Cricket Association (in the 1910’s the major active clubs were Albion and Oak Bay)

By Ben Fast


[1] Terry Reksten, A Century of Sailing 1892-1992: A History of the Oldest Yacht Club on Canada’s Pacific Coast (Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 1992), 55, 57.

[2] Reksten, A Century of Sailing, 53.

[3] Ibid., 54.

[4] British Columbia Archives (hereafter BCA), Victoria Golf Club, MS-2510, Vol. 3, Victoria Golf Club Annual General Meeting 1920 Committee Report, 1920.

[5] BCA, Victoria Golf Club, MS-2510, Vol. 3, Committee Report, 22 April 1919.

[6] “Joe Bayley (2006),” Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame, (accessed 7 July 2013); “Joe Bayley,” Boxrec Boxing Encyclopedia, (accessed 7 July 2013).

[7] “Moore is After Another Beating,” Victoria Daily Times, 4 January 1915, Sports Section, 10.

[8] “Joe Bayley, 1913,” Canadian Boxer Profiles Content, (accessed 29 August 2006).

[9] BCA, British Columbia Electric Railway Company, MS-1321, Box 19, File 9, Jordan River Athletic Club, various dates.

[10] BCA, Young Men’s Christian Association, MS-0214, Box 2, File 42, “Military Y.M.C.A.” newspaper clipping.

[11] BCA, Young Men’s Christian Association, MS-0214, Box 2, File 43, “Extract from our annual report…”

[12] BCA, Young Women’s Christian Association, MS-0215, Young Women’s Christian Association (Victoria, BC) minutes, fond introduction.

[13] St. Mary’s church history, 15-16.

[14] Diocesan Gazette, vol. 8, no. 7 (December 1918), 9-10.