Who were the Young Trutchkeyites?

Trek magazine helps solve a UBC mystery.

When I was researching my book on the history of UBC’s students, one of the most interesting items I came across was a mysterious group who referred to themselves as the Young Trutchkeyites.

I had been reading back issues of the Ubyssey student newspaper when my eye was caught by a notice in the “’Tween Classes” column about the Trutchkeyites and a mono-prevention workshop. I shrugged and kept focusing on the stories about tuition protests and the opening of the Aquatic Centre, but a few weeks later there they were again:

“Young Trutchkeyites: 24th revolutionary Rivesky anniversary.”

And a week later:

“Revolutionary Trutchkey Council: Pre-Fellini spaghetti feast, Trutch House.”

Eventually, I began hunting the announcements down. I found 19 of them from 1978 through 1979, mostly focused on meetings at “Trutch House,” though a couple were in the SUB cafeteria.

Trutch House, I concluded, was a house on Trutch Street, and the Trutchkeyites must have been a group of people who lived there and conducted their house business through the pages of the Ubyssey. Their antics earned them a mention in my history book, but I still didn’t know their identities and could only guess at the meaning of their cryptic messages.

All was revealed after I mentioned the Trutchkeyites during an interview about the book that appeared in Trek magazine last fall. Sheryl Mitchell, BA’80, posted a comment under the online version of the article to say: That was us!Mitchell was one of six arts students sharing the top half of a house at Third and Trutch. The group’s name was modelled on Trotskyites but was just a joke, Mitchell assured me when I contacted her later. “We were all lefties but not Trotskyites by any means.”The idea for announcing their goings-on in the Ubyssey came from fellow Trutchkeyite Kate Andrew, BA’78, LLB’84. She was a member of the Women’s Centre and her boyfriend was Marcus Gee, BA’79, a staff member on the Ubyssey (now a columnist for the Globe and Mail and Kate’s husband). Andrew would go to the Ubyssey office to drop off announcements from the Women’s Centre, and started leaving notices for the Trutchkeyites as well, to liven things up. “We just thought we were cool and used the ads to let friends know what we were up to,” says Mitchell. “Facebook was still decades in the future.”

Essentially, the Trutchkeyites were a group of close-knit housemates who liked to do things together, such as watch Fellini films, and who were very organized about their house business –it’s just that they did some of that organizing in public under a quirky name.

They had their favourite eating and drinking establishments: the short-lived Lethe in the old Student Union Building, for example -- the only drinking alternative to the Pit before the Gallery Lounge came along. And in Kitsilano they liked to go to the Boca Bar at Fourth and Alma to drink cappuccinos and eat bagels. “It felt very cosmopolitan,” recalls Andrew. They watched movies at the old Ridge Theatre, grew vegetables and flowers in the garden at Trutch House, concocted homemade wine in the basement, found plenty of excuses to party, and argued over chores.

Over the years, the Trutchkeyites have stayed in touch and this May held their 40-year reunion in Toronto, where four of them now live: health manager Sheryl Mitchell and her husband Steve Rive, BA’81, a retired economist, and lawyers Kate Andrew and Susan Ursel. (Ursel studied for a year at UBC before attending the University of Toronto.) Film studies instructor John Penhall, BA’81, and architect Janet Snell, BA’79, BArch’90, are still in Vancouver.

“It was a great reunion,” says Mitchell. The not-so-young Trutchkeyites tried to track down the food they used to eat, though their favourite brand of peanut butter is no more, and they looked at old Doonesbury cartoons and reminisced about the time when they were just starting out in life.

Trutchkeyites Toronto reunion in 2018. (L-R): Kate Andrew, Steve Rive, Sheryl Mitchell, Susan Ursel , Janet Snell, and John Penhall.

Some things were easier to recall than others. “Trutchkeyite Tribunal,” said one of their ads. “Snellsoc vs. Andrewsky.” That was a reference to Janet Snell and Kate Andrew, but what it was about no one remembers. On the other hand, Mitchell knows exactly what the “Trutchkeyite labor reorganization symposium” was about: chore distribution. For more cryptic Trutchkeyite notices – along with Mitchell’s explanations -- see the sidebar.

Steve Rive, who was the first of the six to live in the house, says he’s happy to have met them all. “I feel the older you get the more important your relationships become. You need people around who know what you mean when you say Young Trutchkeyites.”

And now that the secret is out, there’ll be a few more of them.

Trutchkeyite notices published in the Ubyssey, followed by accompanying explanations from one of the members, Sheryl Mitchell, BA’80.

Trutchkeyite notices published in the Ubyssey, with accompanying explanations from one of the members, Sheryl Mitchell, BA’80.

March 23, 1978
Young Trutchkeyites: Planet party. 8 p.m.; Trutch House.

September 12, 1978
Central Committee of Trutchkeyite International:
Wild couple swapping party, noon, Trutch House.
Sheryl Mitchell (SM): We had lots of parties. Enough said.

October 20, 1978
Young Trutchkeyites:
Mono prevention workshop, noon, Trutch House.
SM: We were concerned about catching mono after one household member was laid up with it. Perhaps we should have had the mono prevention workshop before the wild couple swapping party!

November 21, 1978
Young Trutchkeyites:
Kitchen clean-up, anytime, Trutch House.
SM: This is a reference to the fact that we divided house chores amongst us. Likely a message to the person who was supposed to be cleaning the kitchen and hadn’t got around to it. I remember that one of our ads (maybe it was this one) attracted some FilmSoc pals, who came to the house to clean.

November 28, 1978
International Trutchkeyite Association:
Official close to birthday season, 6 p.m., Trutch House.
SM: Three members of the household had November birthdays.

January 9, 1979
Young Trutchkeyites:
Landing compensation and review board meeting, 5:30 p.m., January, SUB cafeteria.
SM: One of the bedrooms on the second floor of the house was really just a landing area, meaning that people had to walk through that room to get to another bedroom. The meeting was to discuss lowering the rent for the person who occupied that space.

January 18, 1979
Young Trutchkeyites:
24th revolutionary Rivesky anniversary, 5:30 p.m., SUB cafeteria.
SM: January 18 is the birthday of Steve Rive, one of the Trutchkeyites.

January 26, 1979
Young Trutchkeyites:
Safety and cleanliness is next to Godliness inspection, 2 p.m., Trutch House.
SM: Again, a reference to the fact that someone wasn’t pulling their weight with the household chores.
Revolutionary Trutchkey Council: Pre-Fellini spaghetti feast, 5:30 pm, Trutch House.
SM: We were all avid film buffs. One of our members was majoring in film and a few of us belonged to the UBC film society. Spaghetti dinners were a staple at the house. The Ridge was a favourite theatre.

February 13, 1979
Revolutionary Trutchkeyites Council:
Romance tribunal, 11:30 p.m., Trutch House. Refreshments served.
SM: On the night before Valentine’s Day, an excuse for all of us to get together.

March 2, 1979
Young Trutchkeyites:
(Friday) Closed house, noon, Trutch House.
Young Trutchkeyites: (Saturday) Closed house and wing-ding, all day, Trutch House.

March 6, 1979
Revolutionary Trutchkeyite Sock Searchers:
Organizational meeting and sock hop, all day and night, Trutch House.
SM: Doing everyone’s laundry was one of the household chores, shared by two members. If you’ve ever tried to do laundry for six people you will understand when I tell you that many socks went missing.

March 9, 1979
Revolutionary Trutchkeyite Sisterhood:
Bread and roses, bread and roses, post-IWD celebration, 6 p.m., Trutch House.
SM: We were feminists and several of us were active at the Women’s Centre at UBC.

March 15, 1979
Trutchkeyite Tribunal:
Snellsoc vs. Andrewsky, 7 p.m., Revolutionary high courthouse.
SM: Janet Snell and Kate Andrew were two members of the household, but we don’t remember what the tribunal was supposed to address.

September 27, 1979
International Trutchkeyite Grape Stompers:
Wine-making festival, 5:30 p.m., Trutch garden.
SM: We made our own red wine in the basement of the house. We bought the grapes from some Italians on Commercial Drive, crushed them with our hands and put them in carboys until ready to drink. We drank a lot of cheap red wine those years, the kind that turns your teeth and tongue red.

October 11, 1979
Young Trutchkeyite:
Labor reorganization symposium, 5:30 p.m., Trutch House.
SM: A reference to an in-house meeting to reorganize who did what chores. Chore list included: Grocery shopping; cleaning kitchen; cleaning bathroom and living room and laundry. Trutch House had a chequing account at the university co-op in “The Village.” The cheques were in the name Trutch House and one of the regular grocery shoppers was intermittently called Mrs. House as she paid for groceries at the 4th and Alma Safeway (now No Frills).

November 8, 1979
Earthy Trutchkeyite Planters:
(Saturday) Sit down bulb planting, noon, Trutch House.
SM: We maintained a vegetable garden at the back of the house and planted spring bulbs.
Revolutionary Trutchkeyite Council: (Tuesday) Fordsky anniversary, 6:30 p.m., Trutch House.
SM: This was an announcement for Kathy Ford’s birthday. She didn’t live at Trutch House but was a friend who wrote for the Ubyssey.

For more snippets from UBC’s student past, see The Hundred-Year Trek: A History of Student Life at UBC, by Sheldon Goldfarb. Available at the UBC Bookstore and on Amazon.