Old orchard to have new life at Forest Discovery Centre

(Conclusion) For all his apparent success as a pioneering "organi-culturalist," former naval officer cum organic farmer Cdr. Guy Windeyer was modest: "I don’t know all the answers," he once confessed, "for I am still a novice in the business."

He gave the credit for his and his wife’s success with their 50-acre farm, which included a herd of Ayrshire cattle, on the site of today’s B.C. Forest Discovery Centre, to Irene Windeyer. Among her ideas was the roadside stand that, for years, was a summer-fall landmark beside the highway.

She’d thought, "It would be nice to give city folk a chance to get really fresh vegetables," to say nothing of her home-baked bread (40 loaves a day through the summer) and berry pies.

The Windeyers weren’t just confident of their own success but that of the industry as a whole, predicting that market gardening would become a major industry on the Island: "All we lack is topsoil," he said, "which can be made." A difficulty that he and other local farmers faced in the 1960s, however, was resistance from retail markets to buy locally when produce could be imported cheaply from Mexico and California.

He also foresaw a shortage of organic materials unless farmers gained access to a community supply. He was referring to garbage and sewage, the latter a delicate subject for many, but pointed out that its use as compost had been practised successfully in other parts of the world. From being a public liability these inevitable by-products would become assets, he was convinced.

And if municipal councils couldn’t see the win-win potential, he was sure that private industry would take up the challenge – even if he had to go into the garbage disposal business himself.

"I may yet," he told the Colonist, "but two jobs [he’d quit the sawmill by then] is a bit too much for one person."

The Windeyers celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1979, shortly before Irene Noel’s death. By then, they’d retired to a home on Miller Road, their farm having been bought by the provincial government in 1972. The Australian-born Cdr. Guy Stanley

Windeyer died, aged 84, in 1984. In place of the Windeyer family came Gerald Wellburn’s Cowichan Logging Museum, today’s Forest Discovery Centre. But the historic Windeyer house and barn are gone. Windeyer Cottage, didn’t go down unnoticed. In fact, it raised a surprising ruckus with the announcement of its razing coming as it did during Heritage Week in February 1996. Built in 1912 by Joseph Roy, the white-sided house had been nominated for provincial heritage designation six years before.

Just two years later, the 1930s barn, used by the Museum for storage, burned to the ground. It was the suspected victim of a spark from a passing locomotive.

Then museum manager Mike Osborn argued that the house had been altered beyond heritage value and efforts to have it removed and restored by other heritage-minded groups weren’t successful, he said. Repairs to the wooden foundation, by then rotted, were estimated to be between $50-100,000 and the museum had spent $70,000 over 14 years to try to stop the damage. But much of the 100-year-old Windeyer orchard with its rare apple trees, which has been described as a "valuable agricultural gem," survives and is about to undergo rejuvenation, according to new manager Chris Gale: "We are very fortunate that well-known gardening guru John Hood has volunteered to spend the next few years bringing the trees back to their past glory…"

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