Louis Franz Wille built the building at 537 Johnson Street in 1887 and opened up Wille’s Bakery. Photo courtesy of Willie’s Bakery

B.C.’s oldest bakery shuts down in Victoria

Willie’s Bakery, originally established in 1887, has closed its doors

Regular customers of B.C.’s oldest bakery may be surprised to learn that the business has shut down. While a sign in their window on Thursday read that they are closed for kitchen renovations, social media posts and Google listings state the business as permanently closed. No public statement has been made.

The bakery was housed in a downtown Victoria heritage building that was erected in 1887 by Louis Franz Wille, who opened the original “Wille’s” Bakery at the site. The Wille family owned and operated the business for nearly 100 years, until the property was sold in 1976.

For Gordon Stewart, it was a natural move for him to work in the bakery his great-grandfather established.

ALSO READ: Portofino bakes up local goodness from farm to table

“When I was going to Central Junior High and Vic High, I used to go down there and clean the pans and do all that kind of stuff, and go in early Saturday morning to help out,” he said. “It was kind of a family thing.”

Stewart worked in the bakery for 20 years and said it was always buzzing with customers.

“My God, on Saturday morning it was lined up out the door; we’d sell 1,000 loaves of bread on a Saturday,” he said. “The oven was a Dutch oven, it measured 12 by 15 [feet] and held 305 loaves at a time, all done with a long wooden stick called a peel.”

The bakery offered 32 varieties of bread, all baked on bricks.

After 20 years in the business, the flour got to Stewart’s lungs, and he contracted baker’s asthma, a common occupational allergic disease caused by long-term exposure to flour.

“I jumped at it and sold it because I was mad. The doctors told me if I didn’t quit, I’d die.”

Stewart, who had assumed ownership, sold the business in 1976 and moved back and forth between Smithers and Victoria. He worked for the Department of Highways, as a corrections officer, and eventually became a cattle rancher in Smithers before returning to Sooke, where he now resides.

BUSINESS BEAT: Willie’s celebrating historic milestone on Lower Johnson

In the meantime, the building played several roles under different ownership, including a wool shop, and a bed and breakfast, until it was once again re-opened as a bakery in 1999.

The new owners at the time, Mike and Shellie Gudgeon, renamed it Willie’s Cafe and Bakery, adding an extra “i” in honour of their son’s name, while still posting on their sign that the business was established in 1887.

Stewart found this a bit contentious, and said he approached the owners several times to inquire about changing the name back to Wille’s, and was told it would be considered.

“I don’t want any money, I just want to see it how it was,” Stewart said.

He was surprised, however, to hear that Willie’s had closed, but he had no idea the reasoning behind it.

In the end though, he hopes to see the business continue. “If I won the $50-million lottery, I’d buy the building and start the business all over again,” he said.

The current owners of Willie’s Bakery did not respond to a request for comment by the time of this writing.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Franz Louis Wille, the founder’s son, worked at Wille’s Bakery, which opened in 1887. The establishment is B.C.’s oldest bakery, and is now known as Willie’s Bakery, but has recently shut down. File courtesy of Willie’s Bakery.

Just Posted

Scammer targeting elderly in Kelowna with broken-down vehicle story

A door to door scammer is in Kelowna, targeting seniors according to Kelowna RCMP

Accident north of Vernon causing minor delays

SUV and semi truck involved in crash at Highway 97 and Stickle Road

Ontario driver rolls car near Vernon

Crash in Coldstream follows reports of erratic driving

City of Vernon supports variances with minimal opposition

Four housing variance permits will bring more than 90 new residences to Vernon

Armstrong seeks public input on cannabis retail shops

Online survey and mail-out to be conducted; public hearing/open house to be held for input

Weekend weather update: Crisp and sunny

This weekend will see lots of sunshine and below season temperatures for the Okanagan, Shuswap and Similkameen.

Kal Rotary fundraiser leads to wheelchair van purchase

The $39,000 awarded by Kalamalka Rotary was instrumental in securing the $56,000 needed.

Canada’s health system commendable overall but barriers to care remain: UN

The United Nations says Canada’s health care system is “commendable” overall but vulnerable groups still face barriers to quality care.

Unique technology gives children with special needs more independent play

UVic’s CanAssist refined seven prototypes aided by $1.5M government contribution

$224.5 million announced for Highway 1 bridge replacement in Sicamous

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena says bridge option will be announced next month

Kelly Ellard’s boyfriend has statutory release revoked

Darwin Duane Dorozan had several parole infractions that found him ‘unmanageable’

Okanagan volunteers reflect on building classrooms in Nepal

Through the charity Her International, the volunteer group built four classrooms

Ontario driver rolls car in Okanagan

Crash near Vernon follows reports of erratic driving

Doctor’s note shouldn’t be required to prove you’re sick: poll

70% of Canadians oppose allowing employers to make you get a sick note

Most Read