Venue and People

Pauline Julien

A new and larger location enhanced the scope of Le Hibou. I had always wanted Le Hibou to be more than just a venue for out-of-town performers and although I was working full time at the CBC, I had still greater ambitions for the coffee house. I wanted to feature local talent in the widest sense of the word, be they folksingers, chansonniers, actors or artists. I dreamt of a small incubator for the arts, and I think Le Hibou eventually did become just that.

Born French-Canadian in Ottawa, it was natural for me to want a bilingual coffee house or "boîte à chansons." Le Hibou soon became a showcase for French performers and French theatre. This blending of the two cultures seemed to work rather well. Indeed, I think it was the only bilingual coffee house in all of Canada at the time and thereafter. As folk was in revival mode, it was also natural to feature Canadian and local folk talent. Harvey Glatt, now a partner, brought in some of the Canadian, and later American, performers.

Sarah VaughanAt the beginning, I concentrated on the theatre (French and English), French performers, jazz, and Le Hibou’s ciné club. The first jazz group I booked was the Russ Thomas Trio, whom I met along with Brian Browne and Wyatt Ruther when I belonged to the Ottawa Jazz club, a small group of people involved in supporting Ottawa jazz artists and promoting jazz in general. Prior to Le Hibou, Jean Guy Boutin and I would be at the Circus Lounge on the second floor of the Ottawa House in Hull to hear the likes of Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff, the Al Belletto Sextet, Abbey Lincoln, or at the Standish Hall, the Gatineau Club in Hull or the Coliseum in Ottawa to catch the greats, such as Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan. On many occasions we also would be off to Montreal to catch some other great jazz artists at the Esquire Show Bar.

Claude GauthierThe first French chansonniers featured at Le Hibou were Claude Gauthier from Quebec, followed by Stephane Golmann, (French from Switzerland). They both performed in January 1962. In March 1962, the incomparable Pauline Julien performed for the first time in Ottawa. An ardent nationalist, Pauline later married Camille Laurin, the father of Bill 101, the Quebec language law. Pauline was a passionate defender of her nationalist beliefs, and as I was passionate about Canada, I was aching to have a discussion. Good sense prevailed (I probably would have lost out anyway) so the conversation never took place. She was most professional, never brought it up, and stuck to her art. I often wondered how she felt about performing in Anglo Ottawa.

Robert CharleboisRenée Claude, a marvellous singer who would become a big star in Quebec, came later and also Robert Charlebois, who performed solo then and was not yet as famous as he would later become. After the show he would always jump on the bus to go back to Montreal since he had been warned by L’institut d’Art Dramatique that if he missed any more classes he was out as a student.

Renée ClaudeWith the audacity of youth, I had delved into the world of French cuisine. Not having the means, however, to frequent such renowned great restaurants as Café Henry Burger, some friends and I established a rotating gourmet club. Each couple would invite the others and one couple would provide the gourmet meals for the others at home. Even though we had a limit as to costs everyone would always try to out-do the others by having a little special something to elicit a few oohs! and aahs!

Andre GagnonHaving thus honed my culinary skills with friends, I felt confident enough to invite visiting performers. Renée Claude was one such guest. I lived at that time in an old three-story double at Cooper St near the driveway. (It is now gone as they built a hotel on the site.) The apartment was quite big with large windows and high ceilings, and I had painted everything off-white, the big trend at my artist friends’ apartments. I had prepared escargots a l’ail, coq au vin, salad, and finished with chocolate religieuses for dessert. Renée seemed to enjoy every bit of it, although I noticed her accompanist only nibbled at the food. Later Renée explained that her pianist was always nervous before a performance and rarely ate, although it occurred to me later that maybe he thought it was terrible, and that Renée was just being polite. The accompanist was André Gagnon, not yet an international star.

There was also some unexpected publicity for Le Hibou. At this time, I graduated from the University of Ottawa, and the graduating ceremony was held at the magnificent Capitol Theatre (now unfortunately demolished). I was urged by Bill Boss (the Communications Director) to stay after the ceremony for photographs. The invitation perplexed me, as I certainly was not graduating summa cum laude. The answer to his mysterious invitation came the following day when I discovered in the Ottawa Citizen my photograph with the caption "Denis Faulkner, founder and owner of Le Hibou, graduated last night…" I realized then that in the eyes of the University and the newspaper, Le Hibou had become an important part of the Ottawa fabric.