521 Sussex Drive

Exterior, 521 Sussex Drive

At the time (1965), the National Capital Commission was planning to create a Mile of History on Sussex Drive and they started to acquire all the buildings and to restore them. They planned to rent the ground floor premises to stores and restaurants. Le Hibou became their first coffee house tenant.

The new site was at 521 Sussex Drive, a block and a half from Rideau Street and a block from the market. It was a heritage building with large glass windows and a massive, ornate wooden door. The place was a dream come true. It was almost three times the size of 248 Bank Street, with a 15-foot high ceiling that still had the original stamped tin tile. There were two steel posts in the large main room, but nothing to hinder the view of the stage. Almost predestined for Le Hibou there were large H’s inscribed on the tile floor. (It had been the home of the Hobby House.) In the back there was a good size room, ideal for a kitchen with steep stairs leading to a mezzanine above, which in turn divided into two spaces, one ideal for a performers’ room, and the other for the film projector and the stage lighting control.

There were drawbacks for us since the market at the time had quite a sordid reputation with prostitutes and their clients, and I wondered if that would be a deterrent. The rent certainly was not, however. At $275 a month, it was most reasonable, with the understanding that all costs for renovation on the inside had to be borne by Le Hibou. And of course Le Hibou was quite prepared to do that.

Interior - 521 Sussex

Brick Wall, Counter and Owl

The fabulous brick wall (backing Heaven's Radio)

A few weeks before we finalized the rental of the space from the National Capital Commission (NCC), John Leaning, the NCC chief architect, John McClelland, the NCC property manager, Harvey Glatt, and I met at 521 Sussex Drive to view the premises and to finalize the rent. As we surveyed the premises, on one wall, which was covered by peg board, I noticed a tear. As I yanked the peg board back, a beautiful old brick wall was revealed underneath. Once we became tenants, Alan Knight, my brother-in-law, and I took the peg board down and scraped off a large patch of whitewash with a wire brush on one small section of the wall. And there we had it—a beautiful brick south wall running the length of the coffee house. Much later Crawley Films used the wall as a background to film one of Buffy Ste Marie’s songs, which was included in a film on Saskatchewan.

Matt Stankiewicz, an architect whom I had met at a Exhibition Canada graphic designers parties, and who later backed me up on my crusade against the University of Ottawa’s new campus design, offered to draw up a plan for the new Le Hibou. I was delighted, but had one requirement: I wanted a counter to display our Italian espresso machine and our wonderful European cakes from Bronson Bakery—cakes made with real butter in those days; they also had a great mocha cake and a fabulous Black Forest cake. I also wanted to display the great varieties of tea that we offered, Darjeeling, Lapsang, Souchon, Earl Grey, English Breakfast tea, Green tea, Asssam and many more. While this range of coffee, tea, and desserts is more common today, it certainly wasn’t in the 1960s when even the kiwi fruit had not yet been introduced.

Buffy Ste. MarieNot only did Matt organise a beautiful, functioning kitchen, which we never had on Bank Street, but he also incorporated an open window space between the kitchen and the front counter so we could pass orders through. On top of the outside counter where we had the espresso and the cakes displayed, he added a sloped roof with cedar singles. This created a focal point in the room while also harmonizing the seventeen-foot vertical scalloped "hairy" B.C. cedar board Matt specially ordered and had installed on the north wall.

We required a sign for the front of the building. Doug Peaker, a graphic designer from the C.B.C., came up with an inexpensive and ingenious idea. He designed large cut-out plywood letters that he had cut at the CBC carpentry shop. It read “Café Le Hibou Coffee House”. We painted them white. He also made two large blow-up of our signature owls, which were to be placed on each side of the letters. The owls and letters covered the top front of our building and made it hard to miss. I brought in a ladder, and with a lot of directions and expletives from below and above, we were able to screw everything in and reasonably in line.

We were about ready to open, but then we needed more chairs and tables. Al’s Used Furniture on the market our main provider and other used furniture stores were our sources, but prices had gone up from. 50 cents to a $1, even to $2 for less wobbly chairs. Tables had shot up from $3 to $5. Somehow we managed to get everything together including better lighting and an upgrade in the sound system. Again I was fortunate to have CBC sound and lighting technicians advise.

In February 1965, we moved into our new premises.

Creativity & the NCC

A full program.

Of course now that we had moved to larger premises, I received visits from many municipal officials. The first was the health inspector. We needed an extra bathroom and three sinks in the kitchen, which we provided. The Fire Regulations inspectors required t an alarm system and an emergency light on the premises. That was the wording in the "Regulations," with no particular details. So when the inspectors arrived the following week to verify the changes and asked about my alarm system, I hauled a large school bell from under the counter and rang it vigorously. They looked at one another, astonished, for a moment and then murmured slowly, "Well I guess that’s okay. Everybody will hear that." When asked about the emergency light, I reached again under the counter and produced a large square powerful flashlight. Again the same look of surprise, but they said that’s what the regulation stated: You needed an emergency light, you have it, and it is okay. The fire inspectors had also required a fireproof enclosure for the oil furnace as well as a fire door in the back with "panic hardware." Luckily for us, the National Capital Commission agreed to pay for it as it was considered a property improvement. A few years later, the fire inspectors came back with new and more explicit regulations, and I had to add a battery operated lighting system which would go on when the electrical system failed. But the warning bell was OK.

On another visit, health inspectors had other issues. When they spotted the Italian espresso making machine they examined it as if they had just seen an alien. "Is this machine safe? Where was it made? Italy, you say? Is it going to blow up in your face? Who approved it?" So I made them a few cappuccinos, which they grateful accepted. One inspector noticed on the side a little Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approved stamp, and then the tone got even better. "Well , if the CSA approved it, it must be alright." But then as though they were determined to find fault, one inspector queried about the hairy cedar planks on the wall. The hairy cedar planks? What if a small sliver of wood fell off onto a client’s food, does that not cause a hazard? I said that I didn’t think so, after all, we use toothpicks all the time, do we not? He agreed. So we passed the health inspection.

Memberships, Curtains, Stage

Interior, 521 Sussex Drive

Membership CardThe move also required printing up a new card with the owl logo and the new address. The life time membership cost a dollar. Harvey wanted to scrap it altogether, but I refused as this to me was part of Le Hibou identity. I felt that people were proud to have a Le Hibou membership card in their wallet, and they expressed it to us many times. So it was kept.

At first I set the stage on the large platform in the bay window on the left. I had moved the front door to the right where the second large bay window was located. Thus we had a more discreet way for the public to come in, and we also had better control. Having the stage on the platform made more space for seating but also it created a long room. As before, for the background we used discarded CBC black curtains (limbos) and thus blocked any peering eyes from the street. But sometimes there was a small space in between the curtain and we would see happy faces taking in the free performances.

The performer was also at a small disadvantage since he or she had to walk through the crowd to get to the stage. And since the front door was close to the stage, it created a distraction when somebody wanted to come in during the set. So, I decided to put the stage along the brick wall right in the centre of the room to solve all these problems. With that beautiful wall we required no background curtain whatsoever and we also instantly created a proximity between the artist and the public and enhanced the intimacy. That proved to be quite so as everybody would rave about the closeness to the performers, be it folksingers, jazz, blues, or actors.

Chac Mool / Potbelly Boutique

Penny also moved her Chac Mool Boutique to the new space. She had two large vertical display panels built on wheels which would be opened in the day time and closed and locked for the evening—it was like a large steamship trunk set vertically. As we stored it in the corner, it didn’t take much space. Since Penny had started on Bank Street, she had evolved more and more into designing dresses and developing a good clientele.

Later when her brother, Alan Knight, who worked at Le Hibou, received a scholarship for his Masters at Columbia University, we would take the Volkswagen van down to New York. There, we stayed at his flat on Orchard Street, where all the textiles remnants shop were located. Most of the shop owners were Jewish and connected with the New York textile industry. They had plenty of fantastic ends of lines at great prices. We had heard (urban myth?) that they were quite superstitious: If they didn’t sell to their first customer, the day would be lousy. So Penny was always there as soon as they opened and, whether it was due to superstition or something else, always ended up with excellent bargains.


Allanah ________? Linda Luneau, Denis Faulkner, Georges Tremblay, ready to serve you!

Le Hibou never had a liquor licence, though occasionally I got a banquet licence to serve alcohol on occasions—once for New Year's Eve. So we had to rely on other means to supplement income, since we were now open all day, I decided to offer lunch at noon for the civil servants and business people who worked nearby. At first we offered mainly sandwiches and salad. Our rye bread came daily from Rideau Bakery. Tatra Bakery at 25 St Etienne, in Hull, provided delicious buns for our ham and cheese or tomato and cheese sandwiches. We could not get our cakes from Augustine on Bank Street anymore since he didn’t deliver. Fortunately, the new young owners, Armin and Rheinholt, of Bronson Bakery, a German bakery, were only to happy to do delivery. Another advantage of being in the market area was that I was able to shop daily at Continental Deli and Saslove Meats, and choose my fresh produce from the stalls for the vegetables. On nearby George Street there was a Loeb warehouse for stores and restaurants, a good place for dry goods and canned products.

Later, I thought of running the place like a French bistro offering a choice of two hot dishes, which would vary from day to day. This proved quite popular, and we attracted a good clientele. The menu was quite varied, including beef strogonoff, chicken cacciatore, coq au vin, veal scallopine etc. It was a hectic time for me as some of time I had to do the cooking, but I loved the rush of the action and the occasional kudos from the customers. Eventually I was able to hire a full-time chef and Georges Tremblay, the actor, part of the Le Hibou theatre group did a wonderful job. More on him later.

There was also a CIBC bank at the corner of Rideau and Sussex and as it was the closest, it became our bank. I arranged with the bank the possibility of night drop off . I was given a pouch and deposit slips. I advised the staff to vary the hours of drop off since it was always late in the evening, and I didn’t want an incident. But quite often I would do it. I had a little routine: I would drive up with the VW van, check everywhere, jump out, key in hand, open the door, slam the pouch in and take off. If I walked, I always did it with another person. Luckily, we never had an incident but that was those days. I don’t know if it would be as easy and as safe today.

The Performers

The Children

From February 4-7, 1965 Carol Robinson and Amos Garrett were the first performers to play at the new Le Hibou. The week before they also performed at the old Le Hibou on Bank Street, so they closed one venue and opened up another. The following two weeks featured theatre: “Victims of Duty” by Eugene Ionesco. Cast included Gerard Gravelle, Taunia Gravelle, Robert Whelan, Noel Almay, Elizabeth Langley, and Jean Honeywell. Carol Robinson and Amos GarrettI handled the direction. In retrospect I really don’t know how I managed to rehearse the play, manage the move and the coffee house, and carry a full-time job at the CBC. I suppose that in those days one didn’t think about it, it had to be done, and we did it.

Generally speaking I had a very good relationship with the performers. Most were very professional, although some lingered a little too long at the Chateau Lafayette pub around the corner, and we had to remind them occasionally that a crowd was waiting for their second set. But that was the exception. Some were cantankerous. Gord Lightfoot, who always drew a large crowd, would fuss for a long time in the adjustments of the sound system. Then in the middle of the first song, he would stop and snipe about the sound levels being all wrong. Bruce CockburnI happened to be at the sound one evening and it happened to me. Maybe he didn’t realize that the sound would be different with a room full of people. Maybe it was just his perfectionist bent, or maybe it was a way to defuse his nervousness. Despite this small idiosyncrasy he was a wonderful singer song writer.

I also recall the first time Bruce Cockburn performed at Le Hibou. The arrangement, as usual, was a base amount versus a percentage of the gate. To my surprise, on his first night his brother was at the door counting every paying customers as though our staff was not competent or was intent on cheating. I was outraged at the time, I had no idea who instituted it, but I quickly put a stop to it. Other than that small episode, everything was smooth after that. Bruce subsequently became a regular performer at Le Hibou as a single, or in with The Children, Flying Circus, Olivus and 3's a Crowd. Peter Hodgson (Sneezy Waters)He continued to perform while Le Hibou was managed by John Russow, and then Pierre-Paul Lafreniere. Then there was Peter Hodgson, always brimming with enthusiasm and joy, who played as a single, with Neville Wells as Nev and Pete, as Sneezy Waters, as A Rosewood Daydream and as Sneezy Waters and his Excellent Band.

Other Ottawa performers also played extensively at the club—Bill Stevenson, solo or with bands or his jazz quartet; Bill Hawkins with Heavenly Blue, The Children and other interfusions. Whenever I was stuck with a cancellation, one of the two Bills would always be able to fill in.

In the new place we had a mezzanine above the kitchen. The previous owner, Hobby House, had used it as a small office. It had a large opening which overlooked the whole room. I presume that might also have been part of his anti-theft strategy as there were no anti-theft cameras then. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were happy to use the room to relax and meet people. I had put in a sofa and an arm chair which were much more comfortable than the hard chairs in the main room. I would go and chat with them and sometimes they would complain about the industry, how the young rock bands would use their material without giving them credit. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGheeThey would also complain that they had been playing for years making little money and these bands using their material would make ten times more, which they found quite unfair, and I quite agreed. (I would hear the same complaint from some of the blues bands.)

Sometimes Sonny and Brownie would tear at one another very much like a long time old couple. I recall on an early summer evening, Penny and I went up for a chat. It was hot and Penny had a leather coat. Brownie queried "Why wear a leather coat on such a hot day?" To this Penny laughingly answered. "Oh but I am not hot, I am nude underneath the coat." Sonny, who is blind, interjected, "Oh, oh, oh, come here, come closer," as he extended his arms, hoping to grasp Penny as she deftly pirouetted away. Everybody had a great laugh and the loudest laugh came from Brownie. I always enjoyed having them at the coffee house. They were quite down to earth, most professional, always gave a strong performance and were very amiable and drew consistent crowds. Jerry Jeff WalkerTheir closing song “Walk on” has always impressed me—even though I've seen it many times. I was always touched seeing Brownie playing his guitar followed by Sonny, his hand on Brownie’s left shoulder, as they walked through the crowd towards the back of the room singing away. With any other artists it would be close to melodramatic, but with them it was always authentic and touching.

At one time I went to the airport to pick up Jerry Jeff Walker (Mr Bojangles) and when we arrived in Centretown, I told him that we were in the centre of Ottawa. He was astonished. "But where are all the tall buildings?" he exclaimed. I had to explain that, this being the capital of Canada, there was a by law prohibiting any building in the vicinity of Parliament Hill to be any higher than the Peace Tower.

Willie Dunn1965 happened to feature aboriginal singers. Donald K Donald Agency of Montreal, with whom I dealt for Montreal performers, suggested that I hire this new Aboriginal singer Willie Dunn. Willie was the first aboriginal performer to broach aboriginal issues, and he did so in a very forceful voice. Later, Buffy Ste Marie came along with equally great passion, but her songs which she wrote and her poignant delivery was much more powerful. With her high cheek bones, long flowing black hair, vibrant eyes, and strong personality augmented by her aboriginal accoutrement, she commanded attention. Buffy demonstrated passion, sometimes anger in her songs about Aboriginal issues and history, but off stage she had a very gentle personality. OdettaBudge Crawley, of Crawley Films in Ottawa, ironically was in the process of doing a documentary film extolling the virtues of Saskatchewan for the government of that province. Buffy was born there and he jumped at the chance to film her at Le Hibou. I agreed and she performed in the afternoon in front of our brick wall. Odetta was also another politically engaged singer who had a powerful voice, and was also a powerful preacher. Sometimes she preached even more than she sang.

Door Stories

Arthur II's Le Hibou

One of the ongoing problems for any coffee house is the constant ploy of some individuals to gain free access to club. The most popular one was “I’m a guest of the performer.” “Sorry but your name is not on the list.” In fact there were very few performers who would ask for guests privileges. Another was “I am the guest of Denis Faulkner.” Once I was working the door and some young lad brazenly walked in claiming to be “Guest of Denis Faulkner.” When I told him I was Denis Faulkner and that I didn’t know him, he blanched, then reddened and quickly turned and walked out. Another time someone arrived with a small piece of electronic equipment and wires claiming it was for the performer. There were also stories of guys smooching the female door attendants, decrying their poverty, and their intense desire to see the performer.

One group had found an imaginative way to get in. One of them would pay to get in, walk upstairs, go through the unlocked door leading to the rehearsal room and the storage room for the theatre group, open the side fire door and let the gang in. The following night I put some talcum powder on the steel fire stairs, followed the traces and promptly caught the culprits, white footed. I subsequently solved the problem by putting a large lock on the upstairs door.

Chance Meeting

Joni Mitchell

One time I called Bernie Fiedler of The Riverboat in Toronto to try to arrange a coordination of bookings amongst Le Hibou, The Riverboat and the New Penelope in Montreal. In doing so, it would have permitted us to have a better deal and the performers would have three consecutive dates in Canada. However, Bernie Fiedler was not at all interested. He preferred to go it alone. He liked to tell how clever he was to book Simon and Garfunkel for three different dates in the coming year. And of course, as they became more and more popular the club greatly benefited. However, I did manage to interest the New Penelope and we arranged joint bookings. The strategy worked for a while, but it was cumbersome, so finally we dropped it.

Harvey Glatt did the folk bookings at the beginning. These were done mostly through William Morris Agency in New York. Just about any artist could be booked through them. As time went on, I started to do more and more of the bookings and in the last few years I did just about all of the bookings as Harvey became less interested.

In June, l967, an agent from Detroit called me and proposed Joni Mitchell for the coffee house. Joni was growing in reputation and popularity and her agent was anxious to have her play at Le Hibou. Apparently, performing at Le Hibou was good for reputations. The arrangement was for a three week booking. I assumed that word would spread and that it would prove profitable for the coffee house. Joni MitchellI also arranged through Peter Shaw, a music producer with CBC Radio to have her featured at an outdoor concert. This also provided Joni with extra revenue. I had hoped that all that exposure would bring large crowds, but that didn’t materialize. What did materialize was a friendship with Bill Stevenson. Joni loved antiques and Bill shepherded her from one antique store to another. I was told that she did gain some prized pieces, which she took back to Dearborn, where she was living at the time.

At a later date I booked Joni again for Le Hibou, and at the same time Harvey brought Jimi Hendrix to the Capitol Theatre. If I had not had Joni for that same week, and Harvey had not booked Jimi for a concert, the two might never have met. Joni did come back, many more times, to Le Hibou, to ever growing crowds, until only larger venues would cover her fee. She also suggested that I book her husband, Chuck Mitchell, which I did the following year. He was a competent performer but not quite as talented as Joni.

A Special Guest

Times Square Two

Pierre TrudeauPierre Elliott Trudeau came to Le Hibou once. I had booked Michel Choquette many times before as a solo artist. He did a lot of satirical and humorous songs and was quite unique in this genre. When Le Hibou moved to Sussex Drive, he called to say he was back from a tour in the United States He was a duo now and they called themselves "Times Square Two." They had travelled the States in an old black hearse. When they arrived at their next engagement they would call the press and invite them to the municipal hall. There, they would show up with their hearse, dressed impeccably in tuxedos, perform a bit of their repertoire, and then present the surprised mayor with a card inviting him to their show. Unfortunately, they didn’t do this in Ottawa.

Times Square TwoBut they did do up a poster with their photo and name Times Square Two with the caption: Two Heads are Better than One. Michel said he knew Trudeau and invited him for the show. All week long Trudeau didn’t show up and given that an election call was in the air, I didn’t think he would. But then on Sunday, after Times Square Two had done their last set, in came Trudeau and his RCMP guard and chauffeur. He excused himself profusely to Michel for missing his show, stated that it was a busy time, and asked Michel if he was still doing judo. (Michel belonged to the same judo club as Pierre in Montreal). Michel asked him to sign a poster, which Trudeau did . And as fast as he came, he waved goodbye to everyone and was off. I often think about that episode being so casual, compared to today where the PM requests the protection of an American president, with sniffer dogs four hours before the meeting, a thorough search of the building and its surroundings, and an army of heavily armed guards blanketing the PM bullet proof vehicle.


Poster announcing theatre on Sussex

A Streetcar Named DesireAs I mentioned before, I wanted Le Hibou to be more than a coffee house featuring out of town performers with a sprinkling of occasional folk singers and chansonniers. I wanted it to be a small mecca of different forms of art. Hence, I had theatre (French and English), children’s theatre, films, even painting and sculpture exhibits, fashion shows, and dance performances. The selection of plays were eclectic, from London and Paris and Off-Broadway, such as Entertaining Mr Sloane, The Knack, The day the whores came out to play tennis, or classics like A Streetcar Named Desire, and even original local authors, including Vision of an Unseemly Youth by John Palmer.

I was quite fortunate to attract young and not-so-young innovative directors such as Tim Bond, John Palmer, Gilles Provost (who directed plays in French or English), Jean Herbiet, who was head of the French theatre at the University of Ottawa and then became head of French theatre at the NAC. I also managed to direct a few plays in the new venue. I had already directed Victims of Duty by Eugene Ionesco and The Maids by Jean Genet as well as others on Bank Street.

The day the whores came out to play tennisThere was an amusing incident when I directed The day the whores came out to play tennis. We had posters all over Ottawa—with a provocative design by Doug Peaker—and, of course, ads in the newspaper. Somehow the advertising caught the eye of Ottawa Police morality detectives. They came and stood in the back of Le Hibou for the duration of the play, waiting for something scandalous—I don’t know what, since there were no scandalous scenes. At the conclusion of the play, the detectives sheepishly said that the play was okay, but some words—the abominable swear words—should be cleaned up. I thanked them for the approval and comments, and they left. One actress was terrified—"What if they come back and arrest us?" I tried to reassure her, stating that they would not do that, even though I secretly relished the thought of such an incident occurring. It would have been great publicity! I advised her that if she didn’t feel comfortable with the words, she could just change them, which she did the following night. And of course the police never did show up—to the great dismay of a film crew who waited all evening.


Yvon Deschamps

Charlotte GobeilLe Hibou was graced by performances from many fine actors, some amateurs , others well established, some of whom went on to become professionals. To name a few: Elsa Pickthorne, Pierrette Vachon, Johni Keyworth, Gerard Gravelle, who became a CBC radio announcer, Charlotte Gobeil, who hosted her own show on the CBC, Huguette Beaucaire-White, and George Tremblay, who worked at the CBC then went to London to work at the BBC. John Palmer came on the scene first as an actor, then went on as a director and script writer and attracted a strong following. Luba Goy performed regularly in John’s productions and even provided voice and hand for children’s puppet theatre with the Little Owl Children’s Theatre, though not with Noreen Young Puppets. I had the opportunity to direct Luba in "Three Actors and their Drama" by Michel De Guelderode as well as in "Play without Words" by Samuel Beckett.

Saul RubinekSaul Rubinek was also part of the John Palmer menagerie, and he went on to become not only an actor in theatre but also a film actor in Hollywood. He was a teen when he first arrived at Le Hibou, and he took his newly found role very seriously. I recall an amusing incident when I asked the cast of the upcoming production to put up posters for the play. Saul countered haughtily that he was "an actor and actors do not put up posters." I was of course shocked and could only reply that, if he wanted an audience for the play, he needed to put up some posters. He reluctantly took a few posters but I'm not sure if they were posted!

Jean HerbietAlways concerned about a balance between French and English, Le Hibou sponsored many French productions. Edgard Demers (who was also theatre critic for Le Droit) directed our first French play, "La Leçon," by Eugene Ionesco. And of course, we had very good press at Le Droit, not only for theatre but for all of our other performances thanks to Edgard. Gilles Provost, actor and director, also mounted many plays for Le Hibou, some plays in English and some in French, including "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tenessee Williams and "Les jumeaux etincelants" by Rene de Obaldia. Later he became a full-time theatre director of Le theatre de l’ile for the City of Hull (Gatineau). Jean Herbiet, who taught theatre at the University of Ottawa, also directed many plays for us, such as "Miss Julie" by August Strindberg. He later became French theater director for the NAC.

Clemence DesrochersIn 1965 I brought in a Montreal satirical revue called "On le prend pas," featuring a Quebecois comedian Gilbert Chenier, originally from Hull, but now quite well known on the Montreal scene. Clemence Desrochers was part of the group as well as Yvon Deschamps, and it was then that Yvon started to do his inimitable hilarious monologues, satirizing Quebec culture and all human foibles. He later became the most celebrated of Quebec stand-up comics.

Children’s Theatre

Noreen Young Puppet - Granny

Children’s theatre was important to me, not only for my children, but I felt that the children of Ottawa should be exposed to their own theatre. There were few venues for children’s theatre in Ottawa in the mid 60s. Noreen Young Puppets performed regularly at Le Hibou on Bank Street and then on Sussex Drive. Occasionally, Noreen would bring in guest performers such as Fred Little, Rich Little’s brother. Bob Delmer and Noreen’s brother, Stephen Brathwaite, were also part of the Noreen Young Puppets.

Noreen was a wonderful person to work with, always in good humour, very professional, and a very imaginative puppet maker. All the puppets were made in silicon from the scary ones to the very funny ones.

Basil the BeagleI met Noreen at the CBC when I was studio director of a children’s show called "Jack in the Box," featuring Jack Pearce. Every weekend we would tape shows in various schools in the Ottawa Valley. It was lots of fun. Noreen had a puppet segment in the show. Later she developed her own television show, called "Hi Diddle Day" and "Under the Umbrella Tree." When I became producer later on I actually produced some of her shows for a few months. The television crew affectionately named her puppets the "rubber people."

Noreen’s workload on television was increasing all the time. She was also involved in a late night satirical television show where her "political" characters were quite hilarious. She had a particularly wonderful John Diefenbaker. Eventually, she was just too busy with the television shows to perform at Le Hibou.

Jim KweskinSo, I started a group called "Little Owl Children’s Theatre," some plays were directed by George Bloom, others by myself. We even had a children’s puppet theatre using puppets made of felt. (None of us had Noreen’s silicone puppet expertise.) Luba Goy and Ed Hanna were regular performers along with Gail Luther and John Hodgson who performed folk songs. Even evening performers contributed. I recall that one time while the Jim Kweskin Jug Band was performing at Le Hibou, Jim Kweskin agreed to do a solo Saturday afternoon concert of his children’s songs.

Potbelly Boutique

Ottawa's first liquid projection show

The large trunk on wheels which opened up into a mini-store called Chac Mool in the day time moved with us to Sussex Drive. But more than Guatemalan napkins and tablecloths or dress material came on the scene. Penny started designing and sewing more and more dresses. As it grew, more room was required and Penny found a small space for a boutique on the Sparks Street Mall two steps from Elgin Street. Ottawa's first light show artistsHer store was a walk down, with the Imperial Barber Shop on one side and her own shop on the other. The name changed as well. Penny had acquired an old Quebecois potbelly stove, which she painted a bright pink, and the shop was renamed the Potbelly Boutique.

The store was one, if not the first, boutique in Ottawa, and the link with Le Hibou remained as her fashion shows were always held at the coffee house. I tried to help by bringing visuals to the show. For one of the shows, I did a bit of film which would be shown concurrently. One segment featured a model (Carolyne) elegantly dressed in a long evening dress barbequing a hot dog on a long stick at the Centennial Flame on the front lawn of Parliament. While filming, a Mountie spotted us and rushed over muttering admonishments and banning us from the site. But we got the shot anyway.

Fashionable DressOn another occasion a newly arrived Vancouverite proposed a new type of light show that originally came from San Francisco and had quickly made its way to Vancouver. It consisted of an overhead projector, ordinary cooking oil and food colouring and a glass baking dish. Since the food colouring and the water didn’t mix with the oil, it created an interesting effect, the beginnings of the light shows. A few drops of various colours in the oil would produce beautiful globules as we tilted the glass dish and used the overhead projector to project the effect on the wall.. The globules danced on the wall during the fashion show. We thought this pretty exciting then, but it was a far cry from the computer generated light shows used for rock concert these days. Nevertheless, I still remember it with a smile. Others were impressed as well. The combination of large, loosely crocheted dresses on braless models, Mondrian style dresses, and the vibrant colours combined with the light show so impressed an Ottawa television producer that he did a half hour show, touting it as an "avant garde" fashion show for Ottawa.

Night Managers

Bill Stevenson and Lynn Fairweather

As much as I wanted to be at Le Hibou all the time, my work schedule didn’t permit it. Since I worked on the production of different programmes at the CBC, my work schedule varied. Sometimes it was during the day, in the evenings or on weekends. This provided me with flexibility to do the buying, office work, publicity, and bookings for Le Hibou. When I had an evening shift, I would never go directly home, I would drop in at the coffee house to see how things went.

To cover the evenings, I hired a night manager who would manage the staff, do the night’s tally, as well as clean and secure the place before leaving. The number of people who worked there was considerable, from night manager, kitchen staff, staging when required, to floor cleaners. Over the years, I’ve had a number of people who would say “Hi, do you remember me? I worked at Le Hibou” and they’d provide the date. Sometimes I would recall and other times I had to admit shamefully that I barely recalled. Over the years I had some splendid and very dedicated night managers, such as Catherine Boucher, Lois Wraight and Carolyn Petch who, without a doubt, worked the longest time—along with my brother-in-law Alan Knight.

At one time, even Bill Hawkins pitched in for a number of weeks, in particular when Penny and I traveled to Central America in the Volkswagen bus for six weeks. I remember calling Bill from Mexico wondering if the coffee house was still there or if it had burned down. I was always concerned about fire since we had candles on top of Chianti bottles. That was one the important tasks to be done before closing: Check the candles and the ashtrays for fear of a fire starting in the middle of the night.

Many of these night managers even if they had stopped working would pop in on a regular basis. Local performers would also drop by. The most regular visitors were Bill Stevenson, Sneezy Waters (Peter Hodgson), Sandy Crawley and, of course, Bill Hawkins. They were considered part of the furniture, and they thoroughly enjoyed meeting the performers.

Harvey was quite happy with me doing the nitty gritty. I would see Harvey occasionally. He would pop in to see a set and on some occasions would bring a group of friends. I recall bumping into him once after not having seen him for some time. I was visiting Alan in New York city, and one evening we went to a jazz club to see Gary Burton. To my surprise Harvey, who I had not seen for a long while, was there. I often wondered why Harvey was not present very often. I presumed that with his store, The Treble Clef, he had to travel extensively, or maybe he was just afraid that I would ask him to work the door.

Finances—Revenue Canada

Revenue Canada

To the casual observer, Le Hibou seemed a roaring success. Large line ups for the likes of such performers as Gord Lightfoot, Pauline Julien, Joni Mitchell or B.B. King. But they were the exception. Generally, we did well on some, on others we would break even, and many times we would lose on shows. I never felt at any time that we had a comfortable financial cushion. It was always touch and go. We did not have a liquor licence and relied entirely on entry fees and food to pay costs.

At one time our landlord, the NCC, informed us that all the rents had to be increased since they had received complaints from the private sector implying that rents were too low. They were of course referring to beautifully renovated lofts on Sussex Drive rented at ridiculously low rents, apparently to good friends of the government. Those were the rumours. In any case, Le Hibou was part of the lot. I met with Mr. McLelland, the NCC property manager, and showed him the financial statements of the past years, some with break even points but more with losses rather than gains. He discussed our position with his bosses, and they agreed not to increase our rent. Perhaps they considered Le Hibou as part of their long range plan to develop Sussex Drive from a run down street to a vibrant people-oriented venue. If so, it worked in our favour.

Another government arm also became interested in Le Hibou, or more specifically my relationship to Le Hibou—Revenue Canada. Year after year, I would deduct on my personal income return losses incurred by Le Hibou . I would also declare as a deduction one-fifth of household expenses (rent, electricity, heat , telephone) since I used one room as an office for Le Hibou to do the management, the buying, the publicity, the bookings of artists, and at times the booking hotels for them. So one day I received a call from Revenue Canada. They wanted to have the books of Le Hibou for the last five years. Fortunately for Le Hibou and me, my mother-in-law had graciously offered to do our bookkeeping for free, a most difficult task because I was not always as diligent as I could be in the management of receipts.

My mother-in-law, Ethel Knight (Penny and Alan’s mother), worked for the federal government for Supply and Services and was a one of their top purchasing agents. Anything the government would buy, Ethel wrote up the contract, be it airplanes to office furniture. (I recall that six months before the opening of Expo 67, Ethel with a few other purchasing agents were sent to Montreal to solve a crisis. Expo 67 were running towards a catastrophe. They were so behind that Expo would open with a site half finished. Luckily, the intervention of the federal government purchasing agents prevented a diplomatic embarrassment.) Ethel applied her meticulous skills to make sense of our scattered and casual handling of receipts. Since Ethel occasionally had bouts of insomnia, she would divide her time working on the books or studying her stock portfolio, which she handled with great adroitness. On many evenings she was kept up by neighbourhood disturbances. Philomène TerraceShe lived at 366 Daly and directly in front in the Philomène Terrace (now designated heritage), a beautiful, late 18th century, row of stone row houses where the Akroyd family lived. Dan Akroyd, their son was there, and for him it seemed that party time was anytime. Ethel was never a fan of his disruptions and antics. To her, he was just a nuisance and not funny at all.

One morning, at the appointed time, I received the visit of a Revenue Canada auditor to pick up the boxes of receipts, which were all in order, marked by the day and month, and held by rubber bands. Before he took the boxes, he glanced about the room, looking quizzically at my secondhand furniture and our antique tiger-striped oak round dining room table, a gift from Penny’s grandmother. He asked me if the second-hand beat up Volkswagen bus I had outside was my only car; it was. Satisfied, he took the boxes and left. I was told that when Revenue Canada would do an audit it was because they firmly believed that something was askew. Three months later, he returned the boxes and stated sheepishly that everything was in order, and that the books were particularly well kept. And of course I knew that, and so did Ethel.

But I was not quite finished with Revenue Canada or rather, the other way around. Some years later I received a letter informing me that all American performers had to pay income tax in Canada. Whenever I had artists from the United States, I would call up my official contact at Revenue Canada who looked after incoming performers. He quizzed me on their contract fee, their duration of stay, and the number of people involved. He would inform me that considering their low fee they didn’t need to pay anything. I would religiously call him every time and always give him the particulars on any outside performer or performers. A few years later I received a letter from a Revenue Canada auditor stating that they had reviewed our file and that we owed them over $6,000. I was shocked of course and immediately called my contact at Revenue. He was most apologetic and stated that the auditors saw things differently and they had the last word. He suggested to come and meet his boss, that perhaps something could be done. Assuming that two people representing Le Hibou would be beneficial, I asked Harvey to be there as well. It was quite the experience. We were at their mercy and they knew it. We went to my contact official’s immediate boss and needless to say, he was more than embarrassed. My contact’s boss gravely looked at the documents, asked a few questions, grunted a bit, and said perhaps so and so should have a look at this.

So we trundled off with the original contact sheepishly in tow to a higher floor, a bigger office and an even bigger boss. More grave looks, and more impressive grunts followed by another suggestion to see another boss. So off we went into another office, bigger again than the last one. Since all had trouped from one office to the next, the party was getting larger, and they had a very animated discussion using a vocabulary that I could not understand. Finally, they said they would review it, and let us know later. I was relieved that they decided not to go to the Minister. Later I received a letter stating that the amount was reduced by a third with the suggestion that the monies could be retrieved from the agents. Without great expectations, I sent letters to all the agents explaining the situation and stating the amount owed. Many never bothered to reply, and those who did commiserated with me, but could not do anything since it occurred some time ago. So I had to pay , and did so by sending monthly cheques to Revenue Canada. I often wondered if our location was a curse—there was a Revenue Canada building directly across the street from us. But that was not the building we had gone to, the auditors were in another building. I always thought that perhaps had we been in Moose Jaw, or Corner Brook, Newfoundland, perhaps I would never have heard from Revenue Canada.


After Hours Poster

With the advent of the hippie culture came marijuana. Of course this phenomenon greatly excited the media and engendered great discussion on the vulnerability of our youth. Not to be outdone, the local French newspaper Le Droit ran a front page article in one of their their Saturday sections with a large photo of what was unmistakabley Le Hibou. They discussed at length the infiltration of pot amongst the youth. To illustrate the point they published a photo of the front outside section of Le Hibou, showing our distinctive wide windows and a few letters of our sign. To make it even more sinister, they put a black rectangle over the faces of the people lounging outside.

Of course I was incensed and furious. Never at anytime was the sale of marijuana or any drugs tolerated at Le Hibou. I asked our lawyer to send a letter to Le Droit expressing our wrath and our intent on bringing them to court on a slander charge. Weeks passed without any news from Le Droit. Finally, I received word that the newspaper would pay us $2,500 in damages and publish a retraction. I was, of course ecstatic at being vindicated and receiving compensation, but I was considerably less so when I discovered that the lawyer was taking two-thirds of the money as his fee. Then I became even more outraged - two-thirds of the money for writing one letter? I asked Glen Kealey, another lawyer (who had organized the chess tournaments at Le Hibou on Rideau Street) to contest the fee. He took it up with a lawyers review board and they reversed the fee to one-third to the lawyer with Le Hibou receiving the other two thirds.

Financial Tensions

The finances of Le Hibou were always precarious. So much so that on many occasions Harvey and I had to top up the bank account to cover expenses. The first time we both put in $500, another time $700 and a third time, I believe is was $800. The amounts may not seem a lot today but at that time it was a considerable amount (considerable enough that I can recall the amounts decades later). I had to take the money from the family budget and this created a lot of tension and stress with Penny. It also caused her anxiety: What if Le Hibou went bankrupt? We were not protected. Any of our assets, be it the house, car, furniture , bank money were vulnerable. Nor could we set up as a private company. That would have been too expensive. Harvey’s investment was under Treble Clef Entertainment, so with a bankruptcy only Treble Clef Entertainment would be affected. (Penny was quite correct when years later the Treble Clef stores and the concert arm closed. They were under Treble Clef Entertainment designation.)

After Hours Jazz and Blues

The Artist's Jazz Band

Recalling my days in Edmonton when I was a student at the College St Jean and remembering spending my Saturday nights at the after-hours Yardbird Suite jazz club, I thought that we could do the same in Ottawa. So in January l966 the Peter Fleming Quartet launched the first After Hours at Le Hibou, from midnight to 4 a.m.

The transition from folk to jazz was always a hectic time not musically but audience-wise. We had to assure ourselves that the last set would not go too much past midnight, then wait and encourage the people to leave. When all had left, we’d let the waiting jazz crowd in. Strangely, it worked. To make it more fun food-wise, in addition to our regular sandwiches and hot smoked meat sandwiches, I added pizza and spaghetti with Bolognese sauce or a small steak with a baked potato on an oblong wooden steak plate. (Those plates are now banned by the health department.) Pizza proved a challenge. At first I made my own yeast dough, but that was time consuming. We started buying the dough from a bread maker but that involved picking it every weekend. Finally, a food supplier offered a prepared pizza dough—not the best, but adequate enough.

Sonny GreenwichMost of the fine Ottawa musicians ended up playing at After Hours. What would start as a trio or quartet would invariably end up with seven or eight musicians on stage. We could always count on saxophonist Norm Clarke. I think he never missed a session—he loved it so much. Champ Champagne, Russ Thomas, Bill Stevenson, Bruce Cockburn, and Larry Crosby also played. For more diversity I also brought in groups from Montreal working with the Donald K Donald agency. Sonny Greenwich, that remarkable guitarist with a unique style came with his quartet, The Red Cats, the Ron Proby Quintet who, rather than drive back early in the morning to Montreal, would crash at my mother-in-law, Ethel Knight’s, house for a few hours sleep, and then drive back.

The National Gallery organized a special showing of contemporary artists from Toronto and invited some of the participating artists to open the show with their band, the Artists Jazz Band. So, of course, I invited them for the After Hours and they readily agreed. Graham Coughtry, Gordon Rayner, Nobuo Kubota and Robert Markle gave us a morning of free-form jazz. But it was not to everyone’s liking as some people gradually left.

Archie SheppOn another occasion Archie Shepp was booked for a performance at Carleton University, so I called his agent William Morris Agency and booked them for After Hours. Archie Shepp came waltzing in at around l2:30 a.m., looked about, and in a great dismay blurted out loud "Where’s the booze? Where’s the girls?" He obviously had expected a night club. To calm him down one of our regular customers offered to take him to Hull for a few beers. So off they went. We waited, and we waited, and I was getting quite anxious, and so were the patrons, but nobody left. Finally, the band arrived after 2:00 a.m., jovial and relaxed, and played non-stop till the wee hours of the morning to the great joy of everyone.

Sale to John & Joan Russow

Café Le Hibou Coffee House

I had been a studio director for five years at CBC television while running Le Hibou at the same time. Since my work schedule varied, sometimes day and sometimes evening sometimes week ends, it allowed me flexibility. I could easily pop in at the coffee house in the evening after my shift which I did most of the time.

The last years I had at Le Hibou, John Russow was night manager. John, a Danish emigrant had married Joan, a long-time friend of my wife, Penny. Since he was trilingual, he spoke French fluently, and this was a bonus for the coffee house because I tried to maintain the bilingual aspect of the club. My goal at the CBC was to become a television producer. I would apply time after time, without success. I couldn’t understand why. I was a graduate of the University of Ottawa, was involved in theatre, even did some amateur films, yet no producer/director job offer. Frustrated, I went to see the station manager to discuss my situation. He seemed embarrassed about my query and offered as an explanation that they thought that my prime interest was Le Hibou and that at anytime I would quit the CBC. I quickly replied that on the contrary it was the other way around. On parting, he strongly advised that I should apply at the next vacancy. I did so and two months later, I became a television producer. But there was a caveat: I had to sign a letter stating that I had cut off any financial involvement with Le Hibou. The CBC didn’t want any conflict of interest since in the future I might be called upon to produce music television shows.

I signed the letter right away, glad to get the job, but then I wondered how I would dispose of Le Hibou. I knew that Harvey was not interested in buying, since in the last few years had rarely seen him. But then John and Joan Russow saved the day. He loved Le Hibou and was keen to buy it. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the immediate cash. Not wanting to set the price too high, I set it at $5000.00 which just barely covered the furnishings and equipment. The goodwill value was also not factored in. John was ready to pay the full amount, but on a monthly basis—one half to Harvey the other half to me. In retrospect, I probably should have split in a more equitable way, something like 90% to me and 10% to Harvey, since for all those years, I was never paid for managing Le Hibou. But I just wanted it done, and I didn’t bring it up, and nor did Harvey.

After the Sale – Nov 1968

Modern Rock Quartet (MRQ)

The transition from owner to spectator was somewhat difficult for me. After having started it, bringing it through transitions, setting its orientation, and living through the ups and downs, it was a shock to have to drop all involvement. I supported John wholeheartedly and John welcomed my presence. However, I felt superfluous, and I felt that any comments I would make could be taken as criticisms. I stuck around anyway for a while at least, ready to answer any questions be it for the bookings, suppliers or publicity. Gradually, my presence receded, but then of course my new job at the CBC became quite demanding. At the time, both English and French television stations were under one program director, and being francophone, I worked on both stations. For the English side, I produced "Reach for the Top" (Alex Trebek, Brian Smyth), and for the French side, I produced a music show appropriately called "Boîte à chansons." And, of course, many performers I had at Le Hibou were part of the show, including Lise Masse and Aurele Lecompte.

A few years later I was asked to produce a show featuring local artists for the English network. It was easy to get it together since all the local artists had already performed at Le Hibou. So I did a half hour show with the MRQ (the Modern Rock Quartet with Peter Jermyn), another with Bill Stevenson; then Nev Wells, Peter Hodgson and Robin Moir, A Rosewood Daydream (Sneezy Waters new group with Susan Jains) and many others. I didn’t have Bruce Cockburn perform since he had left for Toronto, but sometime later, for another show, I did an interview with Bruce using Bill Hawkins, recorded at my home.

As time went on, I lost track of happenings at Le Hibou since my new job as documentary producer took me all over Canada and the United States with many forays to Asia. On top of all that, I was also National Vice-President for the National Television Producers Association, which sent me all over Canada for meetings and resolutions of crises, and negotiations. So I missed a lot of what was happening at Le Hibou. But then, one evening in St John’s, Newfoundland, I was pleasantly surprised to bump into A Rosewood Daydream in a small folk club near the harbour. It was good to see Sneezy Waters and Susan Jains again.

Reconnection / Closing Thoughts

Will Tonight be the Last for Le Hibou?

I reconnected later with Le Hibou when Pierre Paul Lafreniere, along with Daphne Birks, bought Le Hibou from John and Joan Russow. I knew Pierre Paul, since he had worked at the CBC for a number of years as a sound technician. In his last year at the helm of Le Hibou, I heard that the club was in grave financial difficulties. The landscape had changed. Le Hibou had never had a liquor licence and consequently, aside from getting the occasional banquet licence, never served alcohol. But now, the drinking age had been lowered to 18 in Ontario and many bars started to compete with Le Hibou with similar entertainment, but also serving alcohol. A person could sip on one or two beers and enjoy the music of a folk group or a rock band without paying a door fee. Wanting to help, I organized a benefit with many of the regular Le Hibou performers, Bill Stevenson, Sneezy Waters and many others. We did well, but it was not enough, and Le Hibou had to close for good.

Looking back, there was no time to reflect on what was happening then. It was, for me anyway, a time of whirlwind activity, rushing from one event to another, to Le Hibou, to work at the CBC, to pick up the kids at the school, to shopping for the coffeehouse, just trying to keep things together. But all of these activities can happen at any time. The times then were, as I saw them, quite unique. There was a sense of well being, an “insouciance,” a joie de vivre, and great optimism. Everyone seemed to live for the present, and the future was going to be rosy. People wanted music, folk, jazz and blues, theatre—avant garde or traditional—even fashion. There was creativity in the air and a desire to participate.

Cafe Le Hibou Coffee HouseI think that Le Hibou’s last venue contributed to this atmosphere of creativity and optimism. The old building in an historic area—its high pressed metal-clad ceiling, the large pane windows in the front, the brick wall, the espresso bar, the mixed bag of tables and chairs, the proximity of the stage—they all contributed to create a truly unique atmosphere. People considered it their club, their haven, a place to communicate with the artist or with their friends. And all of this managed to stay together without the need of a liquor license.

I am quite proud to have created, with many dedicated and talented people, something so unique for Ottawa, and to have contributed to the city’s cultural life. I enjoyed those times immensely, and I think others did as well.