(From the Archives: March 14, 2022)

It was a beautiful time; you know, there’s these blips in history and you don’t realize that when it’s happening, how special it is.
— Lovena Harvey

On February 9th 2022, Whaletown neighbours near the Robertson/Whaletown intersection were alarmed by an unusual sight: the old “Trude’s Café” building was on fire.

Trude’s Cafe Fire was Intentional

Currents contacted Cortes Fire Department Board Chair Chris Walker, who confirmed via email that the fire was intentional, not accidental. However, the Fire Department was not notified in advance and received a call from a concerned neighbour. A fire truck was sent to the scene, but took no action after the situation was explained.

The site has subsequently been cleared, as part of a plan for expansion of the Gorge Harbour Resort facilities.

Cleared site where Trude’s Cafe once stood

Trude’s Café has not been open for a few years now, but it played a central role in the social life of Whaletown for two decades (from the late 1990’s to the early 20-teens) and is fondly remembered.

Trude Allbright-Sweeney, Baker and Queen of Cortes

Master baker Trude Allbright-Sweeney was trained in Austria and produced world-class pastries and cakes. She and her husband Sedley were longtime members of the Cortes community, active in local affairs and much loved. A potluck in their honour in 2005 was one of the biggest social events of that year…

Potluck to honour Trude and Sedley

… and served as the launch of the “Centre for Cortes Self-Sufficiency,” a coop dedicated to cultivating and preserving local skills and knowledge. This cooperative volunteer organisation managed the café for several years.

Inaugural Meeting of the Centre for Cortes Self-Sufficiency

Trude still reigns as the “Queen of Cortes” during Cortes Day celebrations in the summer.

Queen Trude and Princess Abigail at Cortes Day

In the colder months, the Café was a warm and cosy gathering place for neighbours; in the summer it hosted potlucks, outdoor pizza baking in a wood-fired cob oven, and an annual music festival.

Guest chefs would cook special dinners featuring international cuisines, sometimes raising funds for community projects. Trude’s cakes and pastries were famous not just locally, but also attracted summer visitors.

A summer visitor enjoys a quiet moment at Trude’s

Remembering Trude’s Cafe

Trude’s vision for the café was all-inclusive and communitarian: “That’s what I always wanted, that’s my favorite memory too. It’s a place where people could come and just stay and talk, you know, not a place where you have to buy a cup of coffee and leave, no. There’s a place for meeting. Yeah. That’s what I wanted. That’s what Viennese cafés are like, they are places to meet; like writers and musicians, you know, they all have their own little cafés.”

Lovena Harvey remembers Trude’s in its golden era: “And the thing I think I remember the most, what made me fall in love with Trude — for lack of a better word — was hearing her singing, you know, you could just hear her singing kind of operatic Austrian songs in the kitchen, and she just took such pride and love in the creation of these really incredible Austrian baked goods. Which mostly were beautiful cakes. She’s just the premiere cake maker.”

Trude’s Cafe around 2012

Trude remains proud of her culinary creations: “I grew up in Vienna and I say, and that’s the truth. I know what a cake supposed to taste like! every morning for my birthday, I woke up and there was a whole cake just for me. My mother made it and she was a good baker, and I know exactly what they’re supposed to taste like!

“My wedding cakes, the first one… My daughter got married in 1980 and I said, Why should I buy a cake? I know how to make cakes. I made a wedding cake and I made the first layer, you know, and I said, oh, that’s boring. So make each layer of different cake all the way up to the top. That’s how I made my wedding cakes. ever since. And it tastes better, you know? Chocolate lemon walnut was the first.”

Lovena recalls Trude’s Cafe as a hub of community life: “I remember one beautiful event we hosted, honouring Trude and Sedley, and the whole community came out and we had this massive potluck outside, in the grassy area behind. Yeah, just music and dancing and kids… and just so much community, it was really a community gathering place for Whaletown.

“I would say for me, it was the feeling of being there, in community, with the children happily playing outside or in this cute little playroom that Trude had made with this little [child-sized] door; and hearing Trude singing, and delicious cake, beautiful coffees. and just the feeling of being, you know, being held in community.”

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, even Trude’s Café. Trude herself, the Queen of Cortes, is finally abdicating. “I’m leaving probably for good. The end of April, I think — listen, I’m 88. I would like to live with my kids. So that’s what I’m doing. Yeah. I’m moving to Rochester, New York. That’s what happens, you know, when you get older: you have to figure your priorities.”

The audio version of this article will air on Monday March 14th and remain available on this page as a podcast; it contains additional minutes of interview with Lovena and Trude.

Plans are underway to make Trude’s 89th birthday, this Spring, a memorable bon voyage party. Contact Lovena Harvey (lovena@gatheringplacetrading.com) for more information.

Photo credits: fire video & cleared lot by De Clarke 2022; “honouring Trude and Sedley” & “Centre for Cortes Self-Sufficiency” by Dwayne Rourke 2005; “summer visitor” by Bill Pope 2008; montage “walking group at Trude’s Cafe” by Jurek Trzesicki, 2013; people under umbrella, ourcortes.com, undated; Trude’s signboards (feature image and last image) by Kate Maddigan 2022.

Interview credits: Trude interviewed by Kate Maddigan, Lovena (and Chris) interviewed by De Clarke.