Randy Streit was well known for his enthusiasm once an idea took hold, said friend Ray Woollam.
"These Grand Ideas would flash across his consciousness and then all else was put on the back burner until the day of the actualisation. And so the hokey fountain which Randy created in the Courtyard in 1986 [from a collection of scrap iron out back], like the hand-built, vast oven he made of bricks (in which he baked one single loaf of bread), and the Brass Foundry (which poured one job), etc. All of these jobs were undertaken with great flair, humour, and character, as well as intense dedication."
In the course of his acquiring antiquities for exhibit and for sale, Randy Streit travelled throughout much of the continent, leaving a trail of "Randy stories…rippling in the wake of his travels and dealings".
But, in 1995, Randy’s health began to fail and, within a year he’d withdrawn from the day-today, hands-on management of the Junction to a small log cabin he’d built behind the property. Randy Streit passed away in Cowichan General Hospital on July 27, 2001.
Ernie’s retirement in 2007 spelled finis for Streit Bros. Antique Trading Ltd. after 34 years. At that time, Whippletree hadn’t had a vacancy among its 10 businesses in nine years and as he told the Times-Colonist, "It was a very difficult decision to close…"
In his late teens when older brother Randy began building what would become known as Whippletree Junction, Ernie described himself as a "$5 an hour labourer" who more or less was along for the ride, both brothers learning to carpenter as they went. Those early days, he recalled nostalgically, were "very, very exciting".
The idea of rebuilding with materials salvaged from Chinatown was two-fold, he explained: to preserve an important link with the Cowichan Valley’s past while constructing a series of frontier-style storefronts that would appeal to tourists. It worked from the very start, he said, thanks to the help of friends as he and Ernie mastered the business of dealing in antiquities.
A highlight of his and Randy’s buying trips was the purchase of the two saloon bars in Montana.
Their counter-tops were so long – each 24 feet in length – they had to be tied to the one-ton truck’s roof for the winding journey to the coast through numerous mountain passes in wintry driving conditions.
As if this weren’t enough, while they were loading up, a Butte resident offered to sell them an antique chest located on the top floor of his nearby three-storey house. It was too good to pass up and the Canadians began wrestling it down two flights of stairs. They’d almost made it to the ground floor when stopped dead by a peremptory, "Hold it right there!"
Trying to keep the chest from falling down the stairs, Randy turned to see a policeman, his gun drawn, who again ordered them to, "Hold it right there."
"Poor kid," Randy recalled with a grin, "he thought he had caught an international furniture thief. Fortunately, the owner was up there on the top landing and heard the commotion. That was one disappointed young cop. Nice kid, though, he helped us get it into the truck."
Randy’s and Ernie’s biggest score was, literally, the purchase of a 42 ft. x 72. ft dining room from the Royal Alexander Hotel in Winnipeg. It took them all of three months to dissemble, transport and reassemble the dining facility with its 12-foot-high oak walls and chandeliers in the old Shawnigan Lake Community Hall for viewing by prospective buyers. Happily for posterity, it was sold as a unit for final reassembly in Cranbrook as the centrepiece of the CPR Museum.
One item in the store at the time of liquidation wasn’t for sale when Ernie retired.
A ca. 1890 custom-built roll-top desk, once owned by William Vanderbilt (1821-1885), the richest man in the world, was going home with him. Randy loved it, he said.
Because antiques are no longer as popular as they were, today’s Whippletree Junction shops, for all their frontier persona, sell more contemporary goods and services. Even Ernie Streit, who passed away in April 2009, aged 57, had long switched to selling rattan furniture.
However, newer tenants include the famous handmade Bamboletta Dolls. This trend towards a more community-friendly place of artisans and "hyper-local businesses," as the Times-Colonist put it, are part of what owner Alice Hung terms a new vision for Randy Streit’s Whippletree Junction.