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

Bakery

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

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

Lake Country Food Bank welcomes wheelbarrow load of donations

Rotary Club presents symbolic cheque for the $24,600 raised since August 2018

Vernon family shares story of son’s cancer recovery to encourage blood donation

Finlay Ritson’s parents can’t donate blood, but hope his story will encourage others to do so

WATCH: North Okanagan seniors stay fit in self-isolation

Residents have taken to their balconies to follow along in exercise class

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: Kelowna woman worried over increased prescription dispensing fees

The Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

COVID-19: Online tool helps vulnerable people in North Okanagan receive aid

United Way’s tool connects those in need with pre-screened volunteers in the local area

‘Hold our line’: 29 new cases of COVID-19 announced in B.C.

Saturday’s number of new cases marks the lowest in weeks.

UPDATE: Coronavirus concerns prompt event cancellations across the Okanagan

This is a running list of events cancelled across the Okanagan

Visitor to Kamloops army club tests positive for COVID-19: Interior Health

The individual visited Anavets 290 Army and Navy Club between March 13 and March 17

Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at federal prison in B.C.; other tests pending

15 staff self-isolating waiting results, refusal to work notice sent, says correctional officer

COVID-19: Staying home in Shuswap is difficult when you don’t have one

As the snow flies, people without homes in Salmon Arm talk about how tough life is

Critic, workers’ group ‘disappointed’ Trudeau chose Amazon to distribute PPE

Amazon Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it is working with Canada Post, Purolator

Vernon politician questions if response to COVID-19 worse than virus

Precautions make sense but destroying economy in process doesn’t, says Coun. Scott Anderson

‘Always look on the sunny side,’ Okanagan senior says

Heaton Place resident shares story of growing up in Roaring Twenties

92-year-old Vernon woman crochets 1,000 toques for donation

Daisy Ferguson has been working on the toque project for the past six years

Most Read