For close to 145 years, the Wille family has been prominent in the Victoria and Esquimalt/Metchosin areas.
From the original 200-acre farm located between Esquimalt Lagoon, Lagoon Road and Hatley Castle – to current businesses, the family has made their presence known.
“It’s something people should know; we’re an old, old family around here,” said Gordon Wille Stewart, a fourth-generation member of the family.
Stewart, 77, would like to see the family recognized somehow in the area. The original farm was sold off in pieces over the years and residential development has essentially hidden the once-sprawling property initially owned by Stewart’s great grandfather, entrepreneur Louis Franz Wille.
With new developments either planned for the area west of the lagoon up to Metchosin Road, Stewart says there’s plenty of opportunity to rename a major street or avenue in Wille’s honour.
“That property is being slowly developed. We would like to see a main road, not some 100-foot cul-de-sac,” he said. “I feel it deserves more than that; there’s too much history there.”
Colwood planning director Iain Bourhill said council has the final say on new street names and they have drawn from pioneer family names in past. The City’s policy is for the planning department to maintain a list of possible names.
“When a new street name is required, potential new names are vetted to ensure that they are unique in the Greater Victoria region so that the new road name will not lead to confusion, especially as it relates to 911/emergency first responders,” he said.
City staff are happy to receive suggestions from the public, provided they meet the criteria, Bourhill added.
Stewart, a former Colwood and Metchosin volunteer fireman who now lives in Sooke, remembers the old farm house still standing in the area in his younger days. That structure burned to the ground in the late 1940s or early ’50s while it was leased to a vegetable gardener, he recalled.
Louis Franz Wille owned the farm property for many years before selling to Ken McCarter, who in turn sold to Clem Ridley. Wille, a miller and baker, was perhaps best known for opening the Wille Bakery in 1887, in a building he had built on lower Johnson Street in downtown Victoria.
The building still stands today and is home to the popular Willie’s Cafe and Bakery, which was reopened by unrelated owners with the current spelling in 1999, 23 years after Stewart sold the building. He still retains the rights to his family’s bakery name.
Along with younger brother, Wayne, Stewart had worked in the bakery for 25 years starting in the 1940s with his grandfather, Franz Louis Wille. Eventually, baker’s asthma, contracted by breathing in flour dust, prompted Stewart to get out of the business.
Stewart said the Wille Bakery horse and wagon delivered “barracks” bread to Fort Rodd Hill when it was still a barracks, and Franz Louis would stay overnight at 4 Mile and 6 Mile. Milk was also delivered to the bakery by horse and wagon and later Clem Ridley delivered cord wood to the bakery hauled in a truck from Sooke.
Louis Franz Wille was not content with just owning the bakery, which became a generational family business. He also owned three sealing schooners which sailed as far north as Russia and owned property in various places, from Victoria to New Westminster, as well as in Port Angeles.
“He was quite an industrious fellow,” Stewart said.
Stewart himself has many of his great grandfather’s traits. After selling the building, he moved up to his hunting grounds in Telkwa in northern B.C.’s Bulkley Valley. After a five-year stint, he returned to Victoria in 1981, where among other jobs he worked as a prison guard at Wilkinson Road Jail. He returned to Telkwa in 1988 and stayed for another 25 years, during which time he raised red angus cattle, built a house, barns and corrals. He moved to Sooke in 2013.
“You do what you do to make a living. I was never without work; never. Being varied, that’s what life is about,” he said.