Schwende began fencing in Switzerland the 1930s, when his passion for the sport led him to join his local fencing club and serve as its secretary. In 1948, Schwende emigrated to Canada, where he worked as a mechanical engineer for the next 37 years. He joined the Québec fencing club Les Mousquetaires the year he arrived. The following year, he began an association with the club Équibec that lasted until 1975. Schwende’s determination and commitment ultimately made him the worthy successor of Robert Desjarlais in the Québec fencing world.
In the course of his athletic career, Carl Schwende participated in the British Empire (Commonwealth Games) in Vancouver in 1954, in Cardiff in 1958, and in Perth in 1962, where he served as both captain and manager of the fencing team. In 1960, he participated in the Olympic Games in Rome, where he was Canada’s sole representative in the fencing competition and was chosen as its flag-bearer for the opening ceremonies. In the épée, his specialty, he was Canadian champion six times in the course of his career.
Both before and after retiring from competition, Schwende worked tirelessly to promote and develop the sport he was so passionate about. He became tournament organizer and supervisor for the Quebec Fencing Association in 1952. He became its president in 1956 and continued his involvement in this regard with the Fédération d'escrime du Québec from 1965 to 1974.
Schwende also held various positions with the Canadian Fencing Federation and served as its president from 1979 to 1988. He was elected to the executive committee of the International Fencing Federation in 1985 and served on this committee until 1996. He also served as a member of the federation’s Rules Commission from 1982 to 1992 and as president of this commission and vice-president of the federation from 1996 to 2000.
Schwende gave just as generously of his time for the cause of Canadian amateur sport in general as he did for the sport of fencing in particular. He was the main founding member and co-president of the first Congrès des sports du Québec, in 1968, and a member of the board of directors of the Confédération des sports du Québec (now known as Sports Québec). In 1963, he assumed the presidency of the Québec branch of the Amateur Athletic Association of Canada. He was present when this organization was dissolved in 1970 and replaced with the various national sports federations.
In the early 1970s, Carl Schwende became convinced that Québec needed an organization to honour its sports heritage, much as Canada's Sports Hall of Fame did Canada’s. In 1973, thanks to his efforts, the Panthéon des sports amateurs du Québec received its charter, under the governance of the Confédération des sports du Québec. Schwende became the Panthéon’s first president, and a first group of athletes was inducted in 1974, but after that, the project lost steam. Over the years, Schwende made several attempts to revive it, succeeding in 1990 under a new name, the Panthéon des sports du Québec. Among all the many people who worked to establish a sports hall of fame in Québec, Carl Schwende is certainly the one who was the most insistent, patiently and persuasively carrying the torch from one group to the next. He can therefore rightly be regarded as the Father of this institution.
Schwende was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame as an athlete and a builder in 1985, and the Temple de la renommée du Panthéon des sports du Québec in 2001.
When Carl Schwende died in December 2002, the Canadian sports world mourned for this great leader devoted to the cause of sport.