The “Other” Club

Union Club History #7

This is the seventh in a series of historical bulletins which sketch the origins and history of the Union Club, by members Douglas Franklin and Martin Segger.  They draw from the research for our nomination document seeking national heritage commemoration.

The “Other” Club

The early years of British Columbia’s union with Canada were fraught with bitterness over the failure of Ottawa to get the railway going.  Victoria society was deeply divided over politics of the standoff.  Clubs became rallying points for those for and against continuing the union.  While ostensibly open to all (men) regardless of race or creed (unlike eastern Canadian clubs, the Union Club never discriminated against Jews), it is evident that by definition the Union Club excluded the separationists either by their own choosing or by selection, as is evident in the Colonist’s repost to the Standard’s barbs in 1882, i.e., the Union Club was blackballing certain politically active community leaders.  And indeed, from the evidence, it seems almost certain the politically focused Carnarvon Club membership with its base in trades and business reconstituted themselves as a select “gentlemen’s association”, the Commercial Club.  This group announced its organization in June 1885 with 100 members, but took rooms at Fort and Broad as the “Victoria Club” the next month.  By 1888 it had 163 charter members, and in 1894 it reincorporated as the Pacific Club.  By 1911, with a membership of 400, it had expanded into lavish accommodations occupying the top two floors of the new Pemberton Building and included a glass-domed dining room, bar, reading room, billiard room, card room and fourteen bedrooms.

At the head of these efforts were the old separationists, William Wilson, J. S. Yates and others.  The political rivalry illustrated in the founding of the two clubs, the different histories and cultures, go a long way to explaining events 40 years later.

The depression years caused severe membership and financial difficulties for both clubs.  In 1933 the two clubs discussed amalgamation. When the boards of the two clubs agreed to unite in 1935, the membership of the Pacific Club revolted and within a week called an extraordinary meeting of members to rescind the decision.  They did. However, by the early 1960s the Pacific could no longer keep up its luxurious quarters on the top floors of the Pemberton Building and after a brief attempt to re-establish, ironically enough in the former Odd Fellows Hall on Store Street, it finally closed its doors in 1965.  The Pacific Club’s roll of honour listing those the members who served overseas including local realtor and later General, Sir Arthur Currie, is now installed in the Union Club.

Next article: the idea of “union” clubs

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