As is often the case when hearing or reading about local community history, the topic often strikes a chord, jogging one’s memory on the topic. It happens fairly often through this column, when someone will contact me offering further information or a photo regarding a past column topic they have just read. This happened a while back after “Lake Cowichan’s Woo Chung Chinese Laundry” article appeared in this column on November 17, of last year.
A local history buff, Dave Whiskin, whose roots run deep here in the Cowichan Lake area, is always good for providing bits and pieces of additional information on a wide variety of local historical topics. If it involves long forgotten or discarded machinery or equipment of any type, Dave is at his best. One day, after reading the Chinese laundry column story, he called in to say that he knew where the whereabouts of the old wringer washing machine that was used in Woo’s laundry business many years before. A while later, Dave turned up with the washer in the back of his truck. It was somewhat worse from wear after years of use, but it looked pretty good considering it was over eighty years old.
The machine had, for upwards of twenty-five years, been the property of local resident Alfonso Vega, who had purchased it years before from a local man. Upon learning the historical significance of the item, Alfonso agreed that it should go to the local museum. Dave was only too happy to deliver the artifact to the Kaatza Station Museum, where it now sits. Museum Curator Barbara Simkins declared that it was a “wonderful” find. It will be kept in storage until time and resources allow for its restoration. Kudos to Dave and Alfonso for helping to preserve our local history.
Another bit of information that resurfaced after the column appeared was the discovery of an article about Little Woo, penned by long time local historian, the late Trevor Green. It seems that in March 1988, Trevor received a telephone call from none other than the “boy they called Little Woo,” now a man of advanced age, who was at the Riverside Inn and would like to meet with Trevor, his old school friend. Consequently, the two men “came face to face to share three hours visiting and researching the intervening years.” Trevor learned that Woo remembered the names of all the boys and girls from their school days, as well as those of all the ‘old timers’ and where they lived!
Woo explained that when he left the village near the end of the 1920s, he returned to China where he finished his education, then returned to Canada in the early 1930s. Upon his return he found work in Flin-Flon, Manitoba and in Yellowknife, “eventually securing a job at Noranda” at $75 per month. It was “wealth undreamed of for him,” wrote Trevor. Woo eventually bought a restaurant and a 75-room hotel. As the years passed, he prospered and was able to send his children to university. Trevor found the visit with Woo, who was smartly dressed and appeared prosperous, “heart warming.”