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.

Trutchkeyite notices published in the Ubyssey, with 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.

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.”

Kate Andrew, BA’78, LLB’84, circa 1978.

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.

John Penhall, BA'81, plays guitar at Trutch House, circa 1978.

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.

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.