For 40 years, Whippletree Junction has intrigued locals and visitors alike with its legend of being
Duncan’s Chinatown reincarnate. This isn’t so, but it makes for a great story.
A second myth is that the magnificent oak and mahogany bar in the Pioneer House Restaurant is from the Mount Sicker Hotel.
Again, not so; it’s from the St. Francis Saloon (1890-1971) and is one of two purchased on-site in Butte, Montana. So much for Westholme area’s copper mining ghost town.
The common denominator between Chinatown and Whippletree is Randy and Ernie Streit, primarily elder brother Randy, who demolished the former and recycled – not restored – much of the lumber to build the Cowichan Station landmark. Hence Whippletree does, in fact, owe its genesis to Chinatown’s demise.
Which isn’t to say that there are no heritage buildings replanted at Whippletree Junction.
Cobble Hill Village’s second post office is there, as today’s Junction Cafe. For 38 years, 1912-1940, this flat-roofed, singlestorey structure served as the post office at the southeast corner of Fisher and Cobble Hill roads, beside the gambrel-roofed Cobble Hill Market, then as Dolly Scales’s tea-room and store.
Upon her retirement, the old post office and corner store was relocated to Whippletree where it has served in various capacities over the past 40 years. Today’s Wickertree Furniture was a fish cannery building in Sooke and many of the bricks in the Town Square are from the famous Bamberton Cement Works on the Malahat.
Unfortunately, the Gingerbread Cottage, a 1908 house that was moved from Victoria and the home of the antique shop Funky Futures Collectibles, was destroyed in a fire in October 2005.
The early morning blaze also damaged its immediate neighbour, Pickle Ridge Rustic Carpentry, which is built from sections of old CPR warehouses in Vancouver. Fire at Whippletree had always been a concern for the Cowichan Bay Fire Department, and it responded with 22 firefighters, with reinforcements from Duncan, Shawnigan and Mill Bay providing tanker equipment and manpower because there were no fire hydrants in the area.
The fire "could have spread to that whole [complex] very quickly," Deputy Chief Don McKinlay said of the tinder-dry structures. "We’ve always been dreading the day that it would happen. They’re all old wooden buildings…and they’re all basically strapped together there and it would spread real easy."
Fortunately, the fire, which caused an estimated $250,000 in damage, was under control within an hour.
The story of Whippletree Junction begins with the colourful man behind its creation. Randolph Henry (Randy) Streit claimed to have been born in a log cabin in Clearwater Lake, northern Manitoba, in 1937, although there appears to be some leeway here. Some think he was born in The Pas Hospital, wrote longtime friend Ray Woollam in a tribute to Randy upon his death in 2001. At least there’s agreement upon the identity of his parents, Desiree Noel, of Daulphin, Manitoba and Rudolph Streit of Bern, Switzerland.
Good-humouredly denying that he’d been born in a barn, Randy described his birthplace as a cabin with a dirt floor dug four feet into the ground with the log walls extending four feet above ground level. By age 14, the oldest of seven children was on his way to British Columbia in a boxcar, riding shotgun over his grandparents’ worldly possessions with which they were going to start over again on land they’d acquired at Friar’s Corner, near Langley.
Ray Woollam tells us that Randy’s first job was as a CPR porter (Redcap) before he worked as a telegrapher in Port Alberni and "tried his hands at various camps and projects on Vancouver Island as a logger or diamond driller".
(To be continued)