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

Donations needed for Putting on the Glitz in Maple Ridge

Two dress drives are being held in January

Pup ingested pot in Pitt Meadows

Walk along the dikes leaves five-month-old dog unable to walk

Pitt Meadows bans clothing donation bins

Anita’s mother grateful for “slow change” in getting rid of bins that killed her daughter

Letter: ‘Train horns were background noise’

Editor, The News: Re: UPDATED: No more horns from trains running through… Continue reading

B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

A program that focuses on treatment as prevention will roll out Jan. 17

Olympian snowboarder Max Parrot diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Each year in Canada, approximately 900 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

‘Prince of Pot’ Marc Emery accused of sexual assault, harassment

Emery denied the allegations, but a Toronto woman says she is not the only one speaking out

Vancouver Island photographer makes National Geographic’s 2018 elite

Rare double honour for Marston from the 36 best Your Shots out of nearly 19,000 photos

Ex-Liberal candidate in Burnaby, B.C., says volunteer wrote controversial post

Karen Wang dropped out following online post singling out NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s ethnicity

Asteroids are smacking Earth twice as often as before

The team counted 29 craters that were no older than 290 million years

Canada’s arrest of Huawei exec an act of ‘backstabbing,’ Chinese ambassador says

China has called Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou ‘politically motivated’

Manure company causing ‘toxic’ stink at Abbotsford school seeks permit

Property across from King Traditional Elementary cannot operate manure facility without permit

Vancouver city council endorses free transit for youth

Mayor Kennedy Stewart will write a support letter to TransLink

Most Read