It was a long and successful run but in the end, a venerable Duncan business was no match for the internet.
Whittome’s Travel on Station Street in downtown Duncan closed its doors on May 31, after 83 years of serving the Cowichan Valley.
“The business did very well and then along came the internet and that decimated everything,” suggested Dorothy Whittome, whose husband, Jim, was the grandson of company founder James Henry Whittome.
“The family is sad to see the end of this wonderful experience,” she added. “Whittome’s was a big part of travel for all those years. A lot of clients have relied on Whittome’s.”
James Henry Whittome arrived in Duncan in 1898 and was involved in real estate, insurance and financial services.
Dorothy Whittome says the diversified family business included a stock brokerage and utilized a ticker tape machine that churned out stock prices for investors to view.
In 1936, E & N Railway was looking for someone to sell train tickets for passengers heading to Victoria and Whittome’s stepped up to act as an agent. Eventually, the travel services expanded to include airline tickets and cruise packages.
Dorothy’s husband, Jim, died in December 2018. Before his death at the age of 89, he continued the family business, working as a lawyer and businessman, managing the portfolio of downtown properties.
A plaque on the front of the Whittome building that was purchased in 1934 provides a glimpse of the history of the family and their business interests. After starting in 1898, the family left in 1906 for South Africa but returned two years later.
Robert Whittome, the son of James Henry Whittome and the father of Jim Whittome led J.H. Whittome & Co. Limited through an aggressive expansion phase, employing hundreds of people in Duncan, Chemainus, Mill Bay, Shawnigan Lake and Victoria.
Two long-time employees, Sharon Viala and Sherri Brubaker are also sad to see the end of an era.
Viala has been in the travel business in the Cowichan Valley for 43 years, including a dozen with Whittome’s. She is retiring, along with Whittome’s employee Barbara Gardiner.
Sherri Brubaker, who started at Whittome’s at the age of 18, left for a few years and then returned. She will be moving to Marlin Travel.
Brubaker was bit by the travel bug early.
“My dad [Rajindi Mayo] was a private pilot,” explains Brubaker who has been in the travel industry for 45 years. “I had wanted to be a flight attendant.”
Viala says at one time there were eight travel agencies serving the Cowichan Valley from Mill Bay to Chemainus.
“Then it was down to two. The internet has killed it. It really is the end of an era.”
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The Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce’s business advocacy chair Julie Scurr and executive director Sonja Nagel returned from last week’s BC Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting pleased with what transpired.
“The policy sessions were lively, including some edits to our WorkSafe BC policy,” Nagel said.
“This policy was a collaboration of our four Cowichan Chambers: Duncan Cowichan, Chemainus, Ladysmith, and Lake Cowichan, as well as the Surrey Board of Trade. The policy passed unanimously.”
Other policies that the Duncan Cowichan Chamber either submitted or supported were also approved: Protecting Canada’s Social and Economic Values Associated to the Tidal Recreational Fishery on the West Coast of B.C., Supporting B.C.’s land-based wineries, cideries and distilleries, and support of a federal excise tax review for distilled spirits.