Christmas 1919. A century has passed. It seems so long ago, yet in some ways it seems quite recent, because some of the stories published in the city’s two newspapers back then seem fresh.
The pages of the Daily Colonist and the Victoria Daily Times show that then as now, there was a call to help the needy during the festive season, although in 1919, the emphasis was on those who had fought in the Great War, or the families they had left behind.
The Great War Veterans Association had a Christmas dinner for about 100 returned soldiers who were without homes.
The Comrades of the Great War entertained 60 returned soldiers who were away from home. After an old-time Christmas dinner in the club room, the men recounted their Christmas experiences during the war.
About 150 children and their widowed mothers had a chance to meet Santa Claus at the Alexandra Club, a women’s club on Courtney Street. The event was organized by the local chapter of the Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire. Today, the Times Colonist Christmas Fund is one of several charities that springs into action to help those in need.
Most of the churches in Victoria offered services and music appropriate to the season.
Downtown Victoria was still the place to go for Christmas shopping.
In 1919, the Colonist quoted several retailers who all said that business had been the best since before the war. “The cloud of the past four years seems to have lifted and the well-wishing spirit is with us again,” said J.W. Duncan of Mitchell and Duncan, a jewelry store at Broad and View.
The newspaper said merchants were relieved that the influenza pandemic that had hit the 1918 Christmas shopping season had not been repeated.
The Daily Times said there had been a change from the previous year.
“At this time last year the shipyards were working at high pressure and employing their full complement of men. High wages were the rule and money was plentiful in consequence and the shipyards workers and their families were among the heaviest spender at the Christmas season. This year, conditions have changed and a different class of workers predominate in the shopping crowds.
“Despite the hardships prevailing among many of the less fortunate residents of the city, however, there are few who will actually suffer want on Christmas Day, thanks to the efforts of the various public bodies who have been looking after the welfare of the widows, orphans and the destitute.”
Prohibition was in full swing. The Times reported that there had been plenty of sickness — another kind of sickness, apparently — with only one place where a cure could be obtained: the government liquor vendor on Yates Street. There, liquor could be purchased for medical purposes.
In what would prove to be his last Christmas on this Earth, David Spencer’s department store had thousands of gift-giving choices. There were books, toys — reduced in price on Christmas Eve — as well as clothing, handbags, candy, chocolate, handkerchiefs, and boudoir caps.
Not enough there? “When in doubt regarding the gift you should buy for a woman or girl, man or boy, decide the problem in the shoe departments,” Spencer’s advertisement said.
Hamsterley Farm Store, “the best little store in the West,” with outlets on Government and Douglas streets, offered plum puddings — rich in fruits, peels, suet and every best ingredient — for 75 cents to $2.50.
Heintzman and Co. at 813 Government, the oldest and largest Victor dealer on the Island, offered Victrolas for $40 to $60, sold on the easiest of terms. There were more than 9,000 selections in His Master’s Voice catalogue, and two-sided records were just 90 cents for the two selections.
Thomas Plimley on Broughton Street had a 1919 McLaughlin for $2,350. The six-cylinder car had just 700 miles, and was advertised as in “better condition than when new.” It had a natural wood bow top, grey Spanish leather upholstery, bumper, spare tire cover and more. “Not a scratch on it anywhere — perfect condition and wonderful value at the price.”
Still not sold on the vehicle? As Plimley’s ad said, “this was the car that H.R.H. the Prince of Wales used during his visit to the Okanagan Valley.”
Somewhat less luxurious: Painter and Son at 617 Cormorant would sell you a ton of unscreened lump coal for $12.
Movies on local screens during the Christmas week included Charlie Chaplin in The Cure at the Variety; D.W. Griffiths’ The Birth of a Nation at the Columbia, and Fatty Arbuckle in Back Stage at the Dominion.
You could also stay at home and read, thanks to the amazing work of the provincial government to extend library service, by mail if nothing else was possible, from one end of the province to another. But if reading was your pleasure, you would have reason to shed a tear on Christmas Day.
That day, E.O.S. Scholefield died. His name means little today, but his influence on the library system has been remarkable. Not bad for someone who had been put in charge of the provincial library just four years after he left high school.
“Mr. Scholefield’s premature death is due to the exhaustion of his vital forces by the indefatigable care and attention he lavished upon the institution of which he was the head,” the Times said. “His wealth of information, his willingness at all times to impart it to others, his unfailing geniality and courtesy, were notable among the qualities which distinguished an exceptionally fine character.”
Christmas week brought news of decisions that had a long impact on the Victoria waterfront. The Canadian Pacific Railway approved the Johnson Street Bridge agreement, after eight months of negotiations; that led to the construction of a new bridge that served us from 1924 to 2018.
The federal government acquired land at Skinner Cove in Esquimalt. That land was used for a new drydock, the graving dock that has been in operation since 1926. Also in December 1919, it was decided to shut down the Foundation Company, which had built wooden ships at Ogden Point and Point Hope.
In politics, one item worth of note: The Alberta government was considering a new way of electing members to the legislature. It was called proportional representation.
The new idea failed to win support and was abandoned.
The more things change, the more they stay the same — and the spirit of Christmas remains as strong in 2019 as it was a century ago. It is a time of tradition, of family, and of good cheer.
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The real meaning of a day that stands apart
Christmas Day stands pre-eminently apart from all other days of the year. It shares its features with no other holiday; the hundred customs, hoary with antiquity, that cluster around the day are not repeated again throughout the year until the festival comes around once more. It comes at the very darkest part of the year; more frequently than not it is a dull day, speaking with reference to the weather, yet the very word “Christmas” casts its heart-warming glow far back over the dreary weeks beforehand, while the music of its carols have not died away before the New Year comes in, bringing the far, faint message of spring.
The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of a little child. It is the spirit of love, of free-heartedness in both giving and receiving, of happiness in simple things. Without this the most elaborate feast is in vain. But while this is natural to childhood, it can be preserved throughout life, and the secret of the childlike heart is the spirit of thankfulness.
So we come to the real meaning of Christmas. The holly-docked rooms, the giving of gifts, the feasting together with those we hold dear, are all but visible signs of a spiritual reality, a deep thankfulness for that great gift of Him “who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven.”
The charm of long association may cluster around the symbols themselves, but if the fact that it is the birth of the Saviour that is being celebrated is forgotten by mankind, the beauty of those associations must in the end inevitably go lost, and the day, if kept at all, will only be a signal for carousal.
Therefore, as the day is dear to us by every sacred and loving memory that entwines itself around it, let us remember the great and forgiving love that gave it to us, and so it will be to use once again, “a Merry Christmas.”
— The Daily Colonist, Dec. 25, 1919
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The sheet anchor of this tempestuous sphere
Tomorrow in various sways, according to custom and tradition, Christendom will commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ in the little village of Bethlehem and the commencement of the Christian era.
The divine origin and significance of the occasion, however, are often forgotten in the festivities with which it is marked, and while, undoubtedly, its sacred associations designate the day as one for rejoicing, there has been a tendency in a large part of the human family to make a “Roman holiday” out of it, to mark it with a display of extravagance and ostentatious display, this painting in glaring colors the contrast between wealth and poverty, and between the fortunate and unfortunate.
This tendency, we think, will pass away in time and much that is actually pagan in the world’s celebration of Christmas will give place to simpler and more appropriate forms of commemorating the birth of Christ, which, by the way, took place in a stable, not in a palace.
The world is being forced by stress and suffering to realize that what its future will be must depend upon the measure in which it is animated by the spirit, and in which it adheres to the undying fundamental principles, that this greatest of commemorative occasion represents; that therein lies the key to the solution of all its distracting problems and its safeguard against chaos and ruin. Christmas, more than ever before, is a reminder of where the real sheet-anchor of this tempestuous old sphere is to be found.
— The Victoria Daily Times, Dec. 24, 1919