Café Simpatico

Café Simpatico, CASC’s solidarity coffee house, is held on the last Friday of each month at 1923 Fernwood Road. Come out to relax, have a coffee or a drink, and hear some excellent speakers and entertainment. During Covid, Café Simpatico is being held on Zoom.

Café Simpatico has been organized by CASC volunteers for almost four decades, making it one of Canada’s oldest solidarity coffeehouses.

It is the venue that first brought information on the political, social and environmental upheavals in Latin America to Victoria – particularly the contra war in Nicaragua, the civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador and the subsequent refugee situation. Over the decades, Café Simpatico has also allowed CASC to raise funds to assist other local NGOs with their projects – mostly small scale initiatives that weren’t on the radar of larger funding organizations in Canada or the U.S.

Culturally, Café Simpatico introduced Victoria to cumbia, merengue and salsa through its house bands Kumbia and Sabor Latino. The Puentes brothers – Alexis (aka Alex Cuba) and Adonis – also played at Café Simpatico after moving to Victoria in the 90’s. More recently, fellow Cubans Pablo Cardenas and Miguel Valdes have also performed.

Café Simpatico began in 1985 at the Fernwood Community Association building. As supporter Cheryl Curtis wrote for Cafe Simpatico’s tenth

“slide shows, poetry reading, and the occasional lone guitarist was the format in those days. There was also coffee, tea, beer and wine, as well as some incredible bagels and other delectables served by hard working, cheerful members of CASC who dedicated long hours to making simpatico a great success.”

Very quickly, Café Simpatico grew from an informal place to meet friends and form new friendships into a hub of information for speakers from Victoria who had travelled to El Salvador, Nicaragua, or Guatemala, or were from those countries, to talk about their experiences. Over the years, the coffeehouse has expanded its focus to become a venue for people to learn about human rights, the environment and Indigenous issues ranging from from Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, Haiti, and Palestine to right here in B.C. with the controversial Site C dam. During this time, Café Simpatico also began to sell – and continues to sell – fair trade, organic coffee beans grown on the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe by two co-ops.

Café Simpatico used to be held every second Thursday, but changed to every second Friday years ago. Today, Café Simpatico is usually held on the last Friday of each month. With COVID, Café Simpatico has been organized through Zoom which has been beneficial as Café has been able to reach out to both presenters and audiences beyond Victoria.

When we could meet in person, Café Simpatico offered an information table that sold books, artwork and crafts from different countries and where people could respond to urgent actions, sign petitions, join CASC and learn about upcoming events.

For many years, presentations and discussions were followed by dancing to regular bands such as Kumbia, or Sabor Latino, or to reggae bands such as Gone Clear, or to the music of Marimba Muzuva. Music still plays a role as Café Simpatico. Often, Café Simpatico begins with songs of solidarity and peace that have been sung by activists working for human rights, social justice and peace for generations in many parts of the world.

With the continued – and greatly appreciated – support of the Fernwood Community Association – the location for Café Simpatico has remained constant over the decades at 1923 Fernwood.

As mentioned, Café Simpatico is organized by volunteers. Two people who deserve special mention are Carlos Flores and Bev Wood. For years, Carlos kept Café Simpatico looking good through painting, repairs, building shelves for storage, organizing work parties and helping with the audio visuals. Bev was instrumental organizing volunteers with the setup and cleanup of each Cafe. Thank-you, Carlos and Bev – and thanks to all of the volunteers, presenters and supporters who continue to make Café Simpatico a place to learn, to share and to organize in solidarity with activists and organizations in the social justice movement.

To find out what CASC has planned for the next Café Simpatico, check out the CASC website sidebar where you can also listen to recordings of recent presentations.