Central Saanich owner wants to give Trader Vic’s building new life

The days of umbrella-filled cocktails may be long gone, but the owner of what once was Vancouver’s fabled Trader Vic’s restaurant believes there is life in the old building yet.

David Whiffin — who brought the Trader Vic’s building to his 25-acre waterfront property off Mount Newton Cross Road in Central Saanich in the summer of 1999 from its moorings at the Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver — has visions of turning the former Polynesian-style restaurant into a farmer’s market for local produce and wines.

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But to do that, Whiffin knows he has a long road to travel, with approvals to be gained and a renovation required for the building itself.

On the renovation front, there has at least been a start.

Whiffin’s friend Derek Lowe, who has been working on the property, has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $450,000 to breathe some life into the building. The campaign launched Aug. 15 and thus far has only garnered $1 in pledges.

“I’d like to see it return to its glory,” said Lowe, who would ideally like to see the place become something of the tiki lounge it once was. “I want to see if there is any interest among people into the tiki culture.”

Whiffin, on the other hand, sees the building as a marketplace that could be made possible by establishing the rest of his land as either a home for a school of ocean science or as a new home for something like the Maritime Museum of B.C.

“My beautiful plan would be to marry this property with a historical facility like the [Maritime Museum] and build them something suitable,” he said, adding he would provide for free the land on which a facility could be built close to the water. “My goal is to have a quasi-commercial [operation] that is catering to agriculture but that is subsidized by something good like a museum.”

Whiffin has met with representatives of the museum, though no deal has been signed.

“We are not, at this time, looking at that site in the near future with the idea of a move,” said Jonathan Irwin, executive director of the Maritime Museum.

Irwin said representatives of the museum met with Whiffin about a year ago and looked at the property.

Irwin said he’s always open to conversation about possibilities and the museum does, at some point, want to be on the water, but at this point, there is no money to build a facility and Whiffin’s site is well off the beaten tourism path, despite being close to Butchart Gardens.

Whiffin had originally planned to showcase Saanich Peninsula wines, including his own, when he first moved Trader Vic’s to his property.

He ran into a series of conflicts with neighbours and the municipality over issues such as water routes and what could be done on his property.

As a result, the building has sat relatively idle, 110 metres from the water.

Whiffin made headlines in 2012 when he was convicted of cruelty to an animal for failing to provide enough food for a 27-year-old horse in June and July 2009. At his original trial, he was also charged with killing his horse when he hanged it using an excavator. The courts ruled Whiffin killed the horse humanely and acquitted him on that charge.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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