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

BX Ranch event draws solid feedback

“The goal is to get out and talk to the residents who are actively using our parks.”

Vernon-born documentary screens at Towne Cinema

The Happiness Tour, a 10-minute mini-documentary, screens Sept. 24

UPDATE: Rear-ender closed lane on 33rd Street in Vernon

Police and ambulance responded to a two-vehicle collision on 33rd Street and 39th Avenue.

Hesketh moves from hospice care to Vernon council race

David Hesketh had beaten terminal cancer twice and had entered hospice to… Continue reading

VIDEO: Messages of hope, encouragement line bars of B.C. bridge

WARNING: This story contains references to suicide and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Fresh-faced Flames fend off Canucks 4-1

Vancouver drops second straight NHL exhibition contest

VIDEO: B.C. deer struggles with life-preserver caught in antlers

Campbell River resident captures entangled deer on camera

Scheer pushes Trudeau to re-start Energy East pipeline talks

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer questioned the Prime Minister over Trans Mountain project

Mistaken identity: Missing dog claimed in Moose Jaw belongs to another family

Brennen Duncan was reunited with a white Kuvasz that was found in Saskatchewan

Abandoned kitten safe and sound thanks to B.C. homeless man

‘Jay’ found little black-and-white kitten in a carrier next to a dumpster by a Chilliwack pet store

Police chief defends controversial marijuana seizure

Advocates said cannabis was part of an opioid-substitution program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Trans Mountain completes Burrard Inlet spill exercise

Training required, some work continues on pipeline expansion

Supporters of B.C. man accused of murdering Belgian tourist pack courtoom

Family and friends of Sean McKenzie, 27, filled the gallery for brief court appearance in Chilliwack

Most Read