Union Club Culture

Union Club History #9

This is the tenth 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…

Union Club Culture

If the roots of the Union Club lay in its political purpose, despite official denials (BC premiers are automatically entitled to the Club), it quickly combined the functions that in larger centres around the world created many single-purpose clubs.  The interior design of the Club with its rich finishes in natural woods and stained glass, set against classical detailed plasterwork, reflected and indeed led popular domestic taste of the day. The Edwardian age in Victoria ushered in a transition from the warm tones of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic to a more severe muted pallet and design details of the Classical Revival.  Architects such as club members William Ridgway Wilson, Francis Mawson Rattenbury and Samuel Maclure, along with collectors and connoisseurs like member John Shallcross, reinterpreted the taste and ideology of the English and American Arts and Crafts Movement for the local social landscape. This group was active in founding the Arts and Crafts Institute for the education of artists, and the Arts and Crafts Society to organize local art exhibitions.  The Union Club membership forged a network for numerous architectural commissions by both Maclure and Rattenbury.

Unlike the membership of many eastern clubs of the period, the Union Club claimed not to discriminate on the basis of politics, race or creed.  In fact leading members of the Jewish community were members.  Of course women were not until 1994, although a Ladies’ Lounge, accessed via a separate entrance, was included in the 1913 building.  And wives of deceased members could carry on their husbands’ membership!

Newspaper owners and editors rubbed shoulders at the Club.  Earliest was founding member David W. Higgins of the Daily Colonist.  W. C. Nichol, BC Lieutenant Governor and sometime Club president, founded the Vancouver Province newspaper. Member Sir Clive Phillips-Wolley founded and edited the Nelson Miner; Club president and senator Robert F. Green held Kootenay newspaper interests while pursuing a political career as mayor of Kalso and a conservative politician in both Victoria and Ottawa.

The name “Union Club” was attached to numerous community sports teams, cricket, football, baseball and even basketball, although some of these might merely have been occasional “unions” of like-minded enthusiasts.  The Club billiard room was a feature of its facilities from the beginning.  During the 1920s and 30s, the Union Club organized the international Seniors Northwest Golf Association and hosted its annual tournament. The Club was quick to recognize and entertain both Governors General Lord Stanley (Stanley Cup for hockey) and Lord Minto (Minto Cup for lacrosse).

Next article: the founding of a literary tradition of Environmentalism

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.