Denis Faulkner,
Founder and Owner
October 1960 to December 1968

Whenever I meet someone who remembers Café Le Hibou Coffee House, we trade stories and inevitably the question pops up, "Why not write something about it?" I often thought about doing so, wondering what form it would take. A website became the obvious answer, and with encouragement from Pierre-Paul Lafreniere, the last owner, I set off to do it. Many of us feel that Le Hibou was a particularly important part of Ottawa cultural and social life in the 1960s. Indeed, many people still talk about their good memories of the place. I have good memories too, but Le Hibou, and that entire time period, was also a pivotal period in my own life. I didn't know it then, but as I look back, it was very defining, since without it, my job at the CBC and my meeting of Penny Knight, whom I married, would not have happened. Meeting the many artists, the singers, musicians, actors, graphic designers—some becoming famous, others not—proved quite exhilarating and fulfilling. Perhaps others will also want to share their experiences. Maybe the stories, the photographs, the posters or even an old theatre program will awaken a memory, or elicit a story or photo you'd like to share, and perhaps we could all enhance the persona of Le Hibou past.

The Setting

Denis Faulkner

Ottawa, in the 60s was, of course, very different from what it is now. It was, for people outside of Ottawa, considered the capital of boredom. Although its inhabitants protested, they secretly concurred with this assessment. When I worked in Alberta, not only did they consider Ottawa a bore, but as the seat of the federal government they almost considered it evil. If I mentioned that I was born and lived in Ottawa, this would illicit a chorus of groans followed by a smattering of sympathy. How could I possibly live in such a place? Even if I mentioned that one could ski just 10 minutes away in the Gatineaus, how could one compare the majestic Rockies with the puny Gatineau Hills, they would justifiably say.

Café Henry BurgerEven the ethnic mix was different. Whereas Edmonton had immigrants from all over Europe, Ottawa, generally of British or French Canadian roots, had some Italian and Chinese which we French Canadians considered exotic back then. Ottawans could point to their "Chinese village" with its four restaurants, located on Albert near Bank then, a few Italian restaurants in Little Italy on Preston Street, and the remarkable French restaurant Café Henry Burger in Hull. But mostly our restaurants then served up “Canadian cuisine”—beef or turkey sandwiches smothered in thick gravy with mashed potatoes and withered peas.

Meeting places for youth were few. Some restaurants accepted loitering, like the Del Rio on Rideau Street, but there were few such places. If you happened to be 21, and you were a student at the University of Ottawa, you would head to the Besserer Hotel. But that was far from being a very congenial place. There was a men’s room for men only and another room for women "with an escort." And of course most ended up in the men’s room, a room reeking of beer and filled with smoke. As décor, it had a few beer posters, bentwood chairs with a small table and a metal ashtray. On the counter, large jars of pickled eggs stared out at anyone craving for some kind of sustenance. At 5:00 pm the place had to be cleared unless one were eating. So the waiters would dutifully plunk on each table a small plate with some kind of stale sandwich which of course nobody dared to touch. (How long did they keep them before they were freshened up, I often wondered.) Everybody now being legal with their stale sandwiches, the drinking would happily revive. (Later the drinking age was lowered to 18. Oddly, this seemed to occur about at the time that youth had discovered marijuana. Perhaps the government, to counter this trend changed the law, thinking it was more acceptable to have the kids get drunk like dad?)

Music and Theatre

The brian browne Trio at Standish Hall

On the music scene, the Tremblay concerts at the Capitol Theatre were bringing classical music and on occasion pop concerts. At one time, there was jazz and all the big bands and big names would come to Ottawa, such as Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Ella Fitzgerald, JATP (Jazz at the Philharmonic) who played at the Coliseum, or again in Aymer and Hull, at the Chaudiere or Standish Hall. (Louis Armstrong played there.) But then it became too costly and the touring ended. A bit later the Circus Lounge on the second floor of the Ottawa House opened and brought wonderful small jazz combos, such as Billy Taylor, Marian McPartland, Carmen McRae, and Al Belletto Sextet, but that faded away as well. By the time the sixties came around, most of this was gone.

Fortunately, the Ottawa Little Theatre maintained a steady stream of excellent amateur theatre (and still does, though there are more companies around, now). The touring companies came but were quite sporadic. As for classical dance, it was a struggle to keep the few amateur groups going. Of course, there was dancing—shall we call it “social”—in Hull in some of the clubs, but one needed money and above all a car to get there. Such were the times in the early 60s in Ottawa.

Ottawa Little Theatre's Rich Little (best actor), EODL Festival, 1960.


Tabaret Hall, University of Ottawa

Le Hibou was born out of what now seems a remarkable mix of seemingly disparate events: the Cold War, a live jazz club in Edmonton, Italian espresso on Preston Street, and a few Ottawa guys with a small bit of cash and big ideas. Then it was also the people who contributed, worked, or just hung out—the poets, artists, musicians, but also chess players, bakers, and actors.

It began in the fall of 1960. I was starting my final year as a student majoring in sociology and philosophy at the University of Ottawa. I had just come back from a summer job in Edmonton, where I had worked for the Department of Transport as a lab technician for a joint project with the US Air Force under a Calgary contractor. It was the Cold War, and the Department spared no expense in overseeing the construction of a new runway to accommodate large American refueling aircraft.

There was lots of overtime to be had for the workers, myself included. By the end of that summer, I had amassed what was to me a small fortune, and I returned to Ottawa feeling flush.

Jazz at the Yardbird Suite.I came back, also having had some new experiences. Ottawa in 1960 had little to offer students in the way of live music or clubs, other than taverns and, even then, only if you were lucky enough to be 21 years of age. To my surprise, Edmonton had a few European-style bistros and even an after hours jazz club, The Yardbird Suite on Whyte Avenue, run by pianist Tommy Banks (now a retired Senator) which I frequented regularly.

While there, I began to mull over the idea that Ottawa should have a little club for students and others, a place to meet and exchange ideas, listen to some good jazz or folk music. Always a lover of food, and with a romantic vision of French cafés from another era, I cherished memories from my teenage years, sipping espresso all evening long with my good friend Jean Guy Boutin in Little Italy—Caffe Italia, to be exact, on Preston Street. Remarkably, Caffe Italia had the only, and I presume the first, espresso coffee maker in town.

I discussed this idea of a little club with a long time friend André Jodouin, also a student at the University of Ottawa. He was very enthusiastic and recruited two other friends, also students, Jean Carrière and George Gordon Lennox. We all agreed to pitch in $800—a significant amount of money at the time, considering tuition for a full year at the University cost about the same amount. André had no extra money, so his share would instead be provided “in kind” by his contribution as a live-in manager, saving him rent money as well.

544 Rideau Street

544 Rideau Street - 2012

I located a second floor apartment close to the university at 544 Rideau Street, right above Dr. Dupont’s chiropractic business and residence.  Now that we had a location, we only needed a name.  After several long discussions and many coffees, someone, I can’t remember who, came up with "Le Hibou" (The Owl).  Since we were to open only in the evening, the name seemed perfect.  So in October 1960 Café Le Hibou Coffee House was born.

We had a place, but we still needed furniture, a menu, and a membership card.  A designer friend, Frank Mayrs from Exhibition Canada (a now-defunct federal department that used to set up exhibits all over the world) designed the owl logo for the Le Hibou membership card.  We decided to charge $1 per membership with the hope that it would cover the rent and other expenses.  As George and I were the only ones with cars, we did the rounds of used furniture stores.  Al’s Used Furniture in the market had the best deal, and I picked up chairs for about 50 cents to $1, and tables from $2 to $5.  Taking the cue from my artist friends, we painted all the walls off-white. That was the "in" colour for artists then.

The piece de resistance was a cone-shaped aluminum espresso maker I picked up in Little Italy on Preston Street.  The espresso was served in a demitasse.  Espresso MakerFor the cappuccino, we would heat the milk to boiling point on the stove, froth it with a wire whip, add it to the espresso, and top it with whipped cream with a sprinkle of chocolate or cinnamon.  It was amazing how fast we could produce espressos and cappuccinos on that little stove in the kitchen on Rideau Street.  For food, we offered a variety of cheeses, ham on crusty buns, and smoked meat sandwiches on Rideau Bakery rye bread.

On the weekend a student friend of Andre’s, Paul Mostovac, would bake fabulous buttery European cakes on large trays: mocha, chocolate, hazelnut or black forest, all of which disappeared very quickly.  In the front rooms, with visions of a romantic Paris which I had not yet visited, I covered the tables with white and red chequered tablecloths, and placed on each one a straw-covered fat Chianti bottle topped with a candle—Paris on the Rideau.  The walls, however, did not stay pristine white very long as Nikki Patterson, a very talented artist, soon drew beautiful figures on all of them.


Harry Howith Poetry Reading (Denis with black beard on left)

Over time, the club evolved by itself.  Glen Kealy organized a chess tournament.  Harry Howith, a local poet, set up poetry readings, with the likes of Barry Lord, Bill Hawkins, and sometimes Brian Robinson, a U of O English professor, would drop in to read his poetry and play his clarinet. Bob Rosewarne, graphic designer and lithographer, met Bill Hawkins then. From this meeting emerged a series of poster poems including the well-known "Postage Stamps." A friend, Gerard Gravelle, organized the French poetry readings.  Gerard became a journalist and news anchor for Radio Canada television and also played in numerous French and English theatre productions at Le Hibou (more on that later).

Charles FisherBudding folk singers arrived on the scene; people like Nev Wells, Peter Hodgson, who later adopted the stage name "Sneezy Waters," and his brother John (who wrote “You’ve got Sawdust on the Floor of Your Heart”).  There was also an enigmatic character, called Carlos by everyone (Charles Fisher), who played flamenco guitar and would pop in regularly.  When Carlos dropped by, we would be granted with an impromptu concert, and before long George Gordon Lennox (who also played guitar) and others would join in.  The thumping of the feet did not exactly please our downstairs landlord.  He would retaliate by playing corny tunes on his electric organ when we held poetry readings—creating a cacophonous effect as the poet read.

During the period of his impromptu concerts, Charles had worked as House of Commons reporter. When the House rose each summer, he would be off to Spain where it was said he had an extended family.  When he died a few years ago, I learned from his obituary that he was also a poet and a good friend of Dylan Thomas.  Apparently, his friends had urged him to write about that era, but for some reason he had refused to do so.

In addition to the music, food, cappuccino, cakes, chess, and poetry, there was always the business side of the club.  Le Hibou was open seven days a week, and Andre fulfilled his part.  As night manager,  he had to kick the strays out and lock the door.  But after a few months of this regimen his law studies were taking a beating.  So it was with regret that Andre had to quit the group.  Not long afterwards, Jean Carriere needed the $800 he had invested to continue his studies.  Reluctantly, we paid it back and lost another good partner.

Staffing, though, was never a problem.  It was amazing how many people were willing to work for what amounted to a pittance and tips.  Many romances blossomed there.  One I recall involved my younger sister, Fernande, who was also waitress.  On the particular night in question, the cappuccinos and cakes were ready and waiting, yet there was no sign of Fernande.  Checking the front room, I noticed Fernande was seated having a spirited conversation with a club member.  That club member, Ralph Kretz, became my brother-in-law.  And of course, Le Hibou is also where I met Penny Knight, who was to become my wife.

At the end of the first winter, we had more than 500 members.  But since half of our membership were students who had exams looming, attendance began to dwindle.  Then an event occurred which gave Le Hibou much publicity and a surge in attendance.

A Burst of Growth

The article that changed the UofO campus and drew people to Le Hibou.

That year (1961), the University of Ottawa revealed its twenty-five year building plan, a plan concocted by three people: architect Jean-Serge Le Fort, Bill Boss, the U of O Communications Director and then Rector Rev Henri Légaré.  I was both appalled and infuriated by the plan.  Most of my courses at Ottawa U were in a Le Fort building, a bleak, rectangular, soviet-style building with few redeeming features.  Moreover, these twenty or so buildings that were proposed in the twenty-five year plan had no connecting fabric—just a bunch of buildings scattered about.  I thought that, with the U of O campus being in the heart of the nation’s capital, the city deserved better.

I wrote a letter to the University of Ottawa student paper, The Fulcrum (still going strong), venting all the fury of my young, idealistic heart.  It was not long before journalists picked up the story, and Le Hibou was swarmed by the media for television, radio, and newspapers interviews.  A group of Ottawa architects applauded, met, and pressed for changes to the plan.  At meetings, I met Matt Stankiewicz and John Leaning. More about them later.  The furor was such that the University of Ottawa relented and named Murray & Murray as chief architects, with Le Fort as consultant.  I was pleased with the outcome and doubly pleased to see new Le Hibou members joining up.  Today, as I drive by the University of Ottawa campus, I always marvel that one little article in The Fulcrum provoked such a change.

Summer Doldrums

April arrived and exam time was approaching quickly. It was “cramming time” for many students, including me, since I was still at University. (I passed except for one philosophy course which I had rewrite that August.) Although we had new members, thanks to the coverage from the architecture issues with the University, half of our membership was students and they were busy studying. By summer, attendance was worse. Out-of-town students moved out; others enjoyed the great weather. Not having enough money in the bank to cover the rent, we set up a merry-go-round: I would write a cheque to the landlord, cover it with a personal cheque, George would cover my personal cheque with his, Jean would do the same, followed by Andre, then back to the Le Hibou account. Thanks to that strategy, which gave a few weeks leeway, there finally would be enough money in the account to cover the rent. I don’t think this technique would work now in an electronic era but, at the time, the club wouldn’t have survived without it.

Pastries and Poetry

Attentive patrons, 544 Rideau

I had to find a way to bring in money and new customers, so I decided to open the place up as a little bistro in the evening offering very eclectic cuisine, mainly French but also Italian, Japanese, and even Indonesian.  My future brother-in-law, Alan Knight, who was sixteen and already at Carleton University, became my sous-chef.  Every day I was at the marketplace choosing meats, fish, and vegetables for the evening meal.  It seemed to work, and we had a steady clientele.  They loved the food, the prices, and the fact that I never queried them about the contents of the brown bag they brought along.

We also set up a few tables on the balcony overlooking Rideau Street.  It was probably the first café terrasse in Ottawa at that time.  I recall one particular evening when Carlos, with a beautiful date (as always), came rushing into the kitchen proclaiming that he'd just been server the best salmon he had ever eaten.  I had made a pretty good salmon teriyaki, but I suspect the contents of his brown bag had greatly enhanced the flavour.

Another turn of events helped with summer revenue.  CJOH TV featured a local chef weekly on its early evening program.  For some reason they invited me.  I still to this day have no idea why they did so. Maybe it was for a bit of comic relief.  Alan, as sous-chef, insisted on being there even though they told me I was the only one to be interviewed.  So we each washed our two white aprons (purchased at C.A. Paradis) three times and with lots of bleach so that they would look as professional as possible.  The dish we chose was Hati Bumbu Bali, a highly spiced Indonesian dish.  The choice was inspired by Alan’s brother-in-law, who was Indonesian. In those days, there weren’t any Indonesian restaurants in Ottawa.

Looking back, the dish we chose was probably not a wise choice since liver is not everybody’s favourite.  The interview went well, and I talked abundantly about Le Hibou.  Alan, markedly tall for his age, stood silently in the back, mute as a telephone pole.  Then came the cruncher:  "Could you finish the dish—we have only one minute left."  I had prepared very little by then (perhaps I should have talked less) and it was a mad scramble for Alan and I to complete a half presentable dish.  Nevertheless, as a result of this interview, we had many new members and diners, although nobody asked for the Hati Bumbu Bali.

Despite a strong membership, Le Hibou could not live on people, pastries, and poetry alone. We needed a larger place, with paid entertainment on the weekends. What's more, I was receiving not-so-subtle hints from Dr. Dupont, the landlord, that maybe it was a good idea to start looking for another venue, a venue in a commercial district perhaps. I quite agreed. So the search was on to locate a place, preferably in Centretown, close to the two universities and colleges.

Time to Move

Tom Kines

By luck, I found a second floor space above a Sherwin Williams paint shop. It was a long narrow space with a small room and a window in the front—perfect to set up the kitchen. The rent was also reasonable. I suspect that the place had been up for rent for a long time, as the manager of paint store was thrilled to have us.

The new Le Hibou site was not the only thing that happened that year. I also married Penny Knight, and we rented a new apartment at 117 Cooper.

Gerard Garneau, along with his brother Jean, were regulars at Le Hibou. Gerard worked at the CBC as a studio director, and he was leaving to do his Master’s in International Affairs at Carleton University. He suggested that I apply for his job and said I could count on his recommendation. Having just graduated from the University of Ottawa, and Bolex camerahaving studied theatre and acted in many plays, even made some short films using a l6mm hand-cranked Bolex camera, I thought, "Why not?" To my surprise, I got the job. As I soon realized, television was new in Ottawa and everybody was learning on the job.

Preparing for the new Le Hibou, I booked my first performer, Tom Kines, a well-known local traditional folk singer. A new era was about to begin.

248 Bank Street

248 Bank Street - 2012

The new location at 248 Bank St. looked promising. One could accommodate 60 to 70 people with tables and chairs, well over 100 people with no tables, which we did when we had plays. Of course, I kept the red and white checked tablecloths, the large fat straw covered Chianti bottles and candles even though they would drip on the tablecloths and make a mess, but everybody loved them, including me. I required a stage quickly as I had already booked Tom Kines for the opening week.

Chianti bottleLuckily a long time friend and Le Hibou member Jean Guy Boutin came to the rescue and put a stage together, which of course we painted black. It had a long life as we moved it to 521 Sussex later. Lights were pretty rudimentary—two 150 watt flood lights on a clamp with an on and off switch. We used stitched together black felt and nailed it to a 1 x 2 wood frame which provided a back curtain. There was a small glass brick wall in the main room, which I kept for a while but had to remove later so people could see the stage more easily. The floor was concrete, perfect for sound and security. At about that time (1961) Harvey Glatt, owner of Treble Clef Records, approached George and I about becoming a partner.

Management, Ads & Bookings

The Courriers

We met, and George and I agreed that Harvey could become a partner of one third of Le Hibou by investing the same amount as we had: $800.00. As I had not booked the second week after Tom Kines, Harvey, who was managing The Courriers at the time, booked them for the second week. The membership fee was kept and we added a door fee. But to allow for one-time walk-ins, we charged an extra 50 cents or $l.00 according to the performer. We needed more tables and chairs, so it was off to Al’s second hand store. To create the illusion of space, I decided to paint everything black, including the tables and chairs. We set up a work party and painted all the chairs and tables black. Then we wondered, with the ceiling, wall, chairs and tables all painted black, how would patrons find their seats? The red and white tablecloths and the Chianti fiasco candles helped.

I had managed Le Hibou on Rideau Street, and continued to do so on Bank Street. With paid entertainers every week the task became more onerous. As manager, I was responsible for staffing, buying the food, hiring, paying the staff, doing the books, paying the bills, plus promotion and publicity, along with some of the bookings. In the first few years, Harvey Glatt did most of the folk bookings and I concentrated on the French chansonniers and the English and French theatre.

Over time I ended up doing most of the bookings, as Le Hibou also got into blues and jazz. Every week, press releases and ads had to be placed in the Ottawa Journal, the Ottawa Citizen and Le Droit, as well in the university student papers, The Fulcrum and The Raven. Many times, as photos arrived late, I had to deliver them to the newspapers in the evening. Luckily, the Ottawa Citizen was then on Sparks Street, and the Ottawa Journal was on Kent.

John Lee HookerThe first year we ran our newspaper ad with the headline "Le Hibou in association with Treble Clef." We did this so that we could benefit from the Treble Clef high frequency, low advertising rate. But after a year, since we advertised every week, we had a higher frequency than Treble Clef. I then removed the Treble Clef designation since I thought it created confusion, and did more advertising for Treble Clef than for Le Hibou.

We now required one extra person to tend to the door. As I was now working for the CBC, sometimes in the evening, I could no longer be there consistently, and so we needed night managers on a daily or weekly basis. Although Harvey Glatt never managed to work at Le Hibou, George Gordon Lennox, the other partner, did work the door or night manage occasionally. But when he got a job as a journalist with the Ottawa Journal, and later as an editorialist, there was less and less involvement. A few years later George accepted a job with a United Nations agency and moved to Geneva.

Coffee and Food

Espresso Machine

For our espresso and cappuccinos, we still had the little cone-shaped aluminium espresso coffee makers (from Preston Street), and of course I had to buy a few more to keep up with the demand. Later, with the help of Pietro Pace of Caffe Italia on Preston Street, I was able to purchase a real, second-hand Italian espresso coffee maker from Montreal for about $700. Le Hibou became the proud owner of the second espresso coffee machine of all Ottawa. We offered espresso, café au lait (now called "latte") and the very popular cappuccino, a café au lait, with whipped cream sprinkled with chocolate or cinnamon.

The coffee machine became a source of constant worry as kitchen staff, despite being warned not to make cappuccinos during a performance, seemed without exception to wait until the performer was in a ballad and, perhaps tempted by the gods, then fire up the espresso machine to froth the milk, hoping in vain to beat the odds. They thought that by just opening up the steam valve a little they could control the noise, but it never worked—the loud gurgling could always be heard, followed by a shocking blast of noise, invariably terminating in an apologetic, loudly whispered "Sorry!" emanating from the kitchen.

Van Houtte CoffeeHouse coffee came from Montreal since at that time I could not find a good source of coffee in Ottawa. I discovered a very good Mocha Java from Gerard Van Houtte in Montreal (later acquired by A L Van Houtte). It became our house coffee for the duration of my eight years at coffee house. They would send it weekly by bus, and I would pick it up at the bus depot. The staff at the depot kept suggesting that I order it more often since they loved the aroma. For the espresso of course I had a good supplier in Ottawa in Little Italy. As for the teas (Earl Grey, Assam, English breakfast tea, Lapsing Souchon, green tea, etc.), they were purchased at Peter Devine’s store on the market.

As to food, we kept to the same menu. Although Paul Mostovac could not provide his delicious cakes anymore, by a stroke of luck the best French pastry establishment in Ottawa at the time, Constantine, happened to be located a few businesses away from Le Hibou, and they quickly became our pastry supplier. The food—sandwiches of smoked meat, or ham and cheese on Rideau Bakery rye bread, or Kaiser rolls from Tatra Bakery in Hull—remained the same, but there were no more candlelit romantic meals since I was now working full-time at CBC TV as a studio director.

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. 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.


Poster - Poetry Readings

Another event probably helped the visibility of Le Hibou a great deal. Harry Howith, who organized the poetry readings on Rideau Street, had applied at that time for a Canada Council grant to bring in nationally-known poets for readings at Le Hibou. I was incredulous and sceptical, and did not think anything would come of it. But to my great astonishment, the Canada Council agreed to pay $700.00 for the seven poets to cover their expenses. Le Hibou was to pay for advertisements and provide the venue. I was overjoyed. To cover these costs, I charged only 50 cents. I wanted as many people to come to the readings as possible.

Irving LaytonDavid Sutherland, a friend and a CBC graphic designer, designed a poster for the event. Our first reading was with Irving Layton on January 10th in 1962. I remember well that it was a cold and bitter evening. A large crowd patiently waited outside to be let in. We squeezed in as many as we could -- 70 to 80 maybe, some standing up, but we still had as many waiting outside. I asked Irving Layton if he would agree to do a second reading, and he graciously accepted. More astonishingly, the crowd outside continued to wait, stamping their cold feet and running for coffee at the nearby restaurants to warm up.

The readings went on every Tuesday night (our regular poetry reading night at the time) till February 22. Louis DudekOthers who followed Irving Layton and were very well received included Peter Miller, John Robert Colombo, Gwendolyn MacEwen, James Reaney, Jacques Godbout (in French), and Louis Dudek. The series went quite well and the 50 cents covered our costs. What was so heart warming was the poet’s reaction to such an enthusiastic crowd. On this special and rare occasion, the poets had the chance to connect directly with their audience. The Canada Council, along with Harry Howith, who also introduced the poets, deserve a big thank you for the series.

Le Hibou’s Cine Club

Film Schedule

On November 17, 1962, the Le Hibou Ciné Club was started. At the time there were few opportunities to see film classics in Ottawa. Alan Knight, my brother-in- law, helped with research for the selection of films. 1936 BuickI was always interested in films and theatre. As a teenager, Jean Guy Boutin and I would drive quite often to Montreal to see films, plays and jazz. Since we had little money, we could not afford to stay overnight, so we would drive back in the wee hours of the morning. Jean Guy had an old 1936 Buick, which burned so much oil we had to stop every thirty miles or so, open up the trunk, take out one of the gallon containers of oil, and top up the motor.

A little later, I even tried my hand at directing some films with the help of Albert de Niverville and his Arriflex camera. I joined in with my hand-cranked Bolex. The main actor was Gerard Gravelle, who read poetry at 544 Rideau and who later played quite often in Le Hibou theatre productions. None of those films ever made it to the Oscars.

Jules and Jim - TruffaultThe films we showed at the Ciné Club were rented through Astral Films in Montreal and I would pick up the film at the bus depot. As we could not afford to buy, I rented a projector and screen from Adams and Associates. We learned very quickly to have at least two film projector bulbs since the bulb always seemed to die at the most dramatic part of the film, eliciting groans of exasperation from the audience. One time the film never arrived, and I had to rush over and pick up a film from an Ottawa classic film collector. Unfortunately, he collected only musicals, not quite what our film buffs wanted to see. The programming shown in the afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday was very diverse, with films of many great directors such as Fellini, Antonioni, Kurosawa, Ichikawa, Bresson, Buňuel, Truffaut, and Polanski. The series continued well until the end of 1965.

8 1/2 - Fellini


Poster - Do you have Prince Albert in the Can?

Now that the coffee house could accommodate more people than our old location on Rideau Street, it became feasible to include theatre in the programme, and I decided it was a good time to use the theatre training which I received from René Provost at l’Ecole d’ Arts Dramatiques de Hull, and from Harold Greenberg of Montreal (who came every weekend), who used the well-known Actors Studio method. I had acted in many plays with the St Gérard’s parish local group "Les Masques" and with René Provost’s Arts Dramatiques de Hull group. Although I was a great supporter of theatre, I must admit that I was not such good actor.

In September 1962, we inaugurated French theatre at Le Hibou. Edgard Demers, whom I had met in the French theatre group, directed "The Lesson" by Eugene Ionesco. The first week was in English, and the next week was in French with "La Leçon." Actors included Gerard Gravelle, Huguette Beaucaire-White, and Madeleine Sanscartier. As Edgard was also theatre critic for Le Droit newspaper, Le Hibou always received very good promotion from Le Droit—well earned, I would add.

Mayor Charlotte WhittonIn December 1962, I produced and directed "Too Many Guys for One Doll," an original musical satire on municipal affairs and Charlotte Whitton, Ottawa mayor during the early 1960s. The script was authored by "Isabel Edward," a pen name for Penny Faulkner, my wife at the time, whose first name was Isabella, while my second name is Edward. The music was composed by the remarkable Julian Leigh, who also accompanied the actors on piano.

The satire was set in medieval times, larded with feminist barbs, and featured "Lotti Lollard" jousting with her male councillors and a rogue building developer, "Champ de Lot" (Campeau), played by Charles Gravelle, whom I met at l’Ecole d’Arts Dramatiques de Hull. Lotti (Charlotte Whitton) was played with great verve and enthusiasm by the incomparable Elsa Pickthorne. The city councillors were played by Tom Dunleavy, Maurice Bigras (also from l’Ecole) and Peter Hodgson. Peter (a regular from Rideau Street who later took the stage name of “Sneezy Waters”) was somewhat reluctant as he had never been in a play before. I convinced him by telling him he was already half way there, since he was a folksinger familiar with the stage.

"Too Many Guys for One Doll" was extremely well received, with a packed house for the duration of the two-week run. I was pleased, as it was the first play that I directed at Le Hibou. Only other bookings prevented a longer run. Charlotte Whitton of course came, and she adored the play, thanked Elsa profusely, and said that Elsa would have made a wonderful mayor. Later in 1964, I pursued my foray in theatre but this time instead of directing musicals, I turned to avant garde, in part because I was more interested in contemporary theatre and in part because Ottawa did not produce any such theatre. (The National Arts Centre was not yet up and running.) So the first avant-garde play I did was "The Maids" by Jean Genet with a cast that included Marilyn Nixon, Pierrette Vachon (another former graduate from l’Ecole d’Arts Dramatiques de Hull) and Sheila McCook.

Luba GoyIn 1965 I directed "Victims of Duty," by Eugene Ionesco with cast of Gerard Gravelle (now a television host for Radio Canada), Taunia Gravelle (a radio announcer), Noel Almay, Elizabeth Langley (a professional dancer), Robert Whelan (a local poet) and Jean Honeywell. In 1965 I directed "Three Actors and Their Drama" and The Blind Man, both by Michel de Guelderode with a cast including Luba Goy (later with the Royal Canadian Air Farce), Bill Walther, and Don Grant. On the same bill was "Play Without Words" by Samuel Beckett with Luba Goy and Johni Keyworth.

Later in June 1963 the same group (Penny as writer, Julian Leigh as composer and myself) reassembled and put on another musical satire, this time based on John Diefenbaker, entitled "Do You Have Prince Albert in the Can?" (At one time, Prince Albert tobacco was sold in cans. Diefenbaker was born and lived in Prince Albert.) The name was somewhat obscure—perhaps we should have called it simply "Dief the Chief." In any case, it proved not as popular as "Too Many Guys for one Doll." Maybe because of the fact that Dief’s popularity was on the way down, a satire on him lost its punch. The actors were Joe O’Brien, George Tremblay (a CBC co-worker), Ken Wilson and Nika Rylski. I also directed "The Day the Whores Came Out to Play Tennis" in 1966. More on that later.

Can you name this Noreen Young puppet?Having children, I was very interested in having children’s theatre on a regular basis at Le Hibou on Saturday afternoon. The Little Owl Children’s Theatre was established with George Bloom at the helm in February 1964. This went on for about a month until Noreen Young Puppets with Fred Little began to perform regularly. I had met Noreen Young when I was studio director on a CBC children’s show called "Jack in the Box" (Jack Pearse was the host) where Noreen’s puppets were featured on a regular basis. The Noreen Young Puppet Show regularly attracted a dedicated audience. I know my two children enjoyed it very much, although I had to keep an eye on them. My son, Stephane, loved to get into the smoked meat, and Nadine, my daughter, loved the black forest cake.

Chansonniers and Blues Artists

Reverend Gary Davis

In the first few years Harvey Glatt did the folk artist bookings, and it was only later that I became more involved, especially with the folk and blues bookings. The first blues artist that I booked in 1963 was Reverend Gary Davis, at the suggestion of Bill Hawkins. Bill even offered to put him up at his house, which he did. Tex LecorThe Reverend Gary Davis was blind, always jovial (in contrast to some of his blues songs) and constantly sported a cigar in his mouth as well as an apron of ashes on the front of his sweater.

In 1962 we had the French chansonniers Raoul Roy, Tex Lecor, Jacques Labrecque, and Claude Gauthier (who returned many times, and became a good friend as well). That year, I brought in the first international singer/songwriter Stephane Golmann (booked through the Guy Latraverse agency in Montreal). Pierre Letourneau also came, as well the soon-to-be celebrated Claude Leveillée.

Claude LeveilléeClaude was shy then and as he accompanied himself on piano, he would ask us to turn the piano around so that he had his back to the audience. He had a small mirror so that he could see the audience. Later he dropped that habit and became quite relaxed in front of an audience. I met Claude many years later at a Radio Canada studio, and we talked about Le Hibou. He recalled, “God, was it dark in there with its black walls and ceiling.” Another singer/composer from France was Pierre Dudan. "Un café au lait au lit" was one of his big hits that made it to Le Hibou. Michel Choquette also became a regular performer and a good friend. I always enjoyed him as his songs were remarkably unique and many were quite funny.

Hootenanny Night

Sandy Crawley

We continued the poetry readings for a while, but we had lost the intimate atmosphere of 544 Rideau Street and fewer people came. And what was informal on Rideau—the impromptu singing—became more formal on Bank. David WiffenThat’s when I instituted the Hootenanny. At first, it ran Sunday nights. Then I shifted it to Monday since it permitted us to have the weekend performer for one extra night. Monday was a slow night in any case. We held many Hootenannies over the years. There was a minimal charge at the door, and the coordinator received half of the door take. The same applied to our regular performers. There was always a base fee of $150.00 to $200.00 per week or 60% of the door receipts, whichever was highest. Performers generally always received more than the base.

Many of the old guard from Rideau Street took on the role of Hootenanny Coordinator, including Nev Wells, Peter Hodgson, his brother John, Bill Hawkins, and later David Wiffen. Sandy Crawley probably did it the longest, though I could not understand why, since some of the performers were very bad. The coordinator would set up the list of performers and set equal audience time for each performer. However, some performers, intoxicated by the chance to perform in front of a captive audience, would prolong their stay. Countless times I witnessed the coordinator jumping on stage at the end of a long, never-ending song, urging the audience to "give him a big hand," which they did probably out of great relief more than anything else.


Elizabeth Langley

We even had dance at Le Hibou. Elizabeth Langley, a professional dancer from Australia had befriended Penny, and even lived in our third-floor flat for a while at the Cartier Street house we rented after we moved from Cooper Street. She also worked occasionally as night manager.

Elizabeth LangleyIn February 1964, she gave a lecture and performance on modern dance, which was quite appreciated. Elizabeth had immigrated to Canada, while her brother had moved to Christ Church, New Zealand to open a café. She liked Le Hibou, as it reminded her of her brother’s café. Years later while doing documentaries for the CBC in New Zealand, I visited his café, and it really was very much the same as Le Hibou on Bank Street—the stairs leading straight up to the long rectangular room (without the black paint), the espresso coffee maker, the warm cordial atmosphere—very much the same, but on two different continents.

Volkswagen and Chac Mool

Denis, Penny, Stephane

One summer, Penny, Stephane, Alan Knight, and I took a five-week trip to Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador in a converted Volkswagen van. We slept in the van, while Alan bravely slept outside in a pup tent. Along the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, Penny met an itinerant cloth seller. We bought quite a few pieces of fabric and Penny, who spoke fluent Spanish, arranged to have him send beautiful hand-woven cloth back to Canada on a regular basis. Family CamperSince he could not read or write, everything was arranged through a translator and sent by him to Ottawa, which I in turn picked up at the customs office. It was quite long and laborious at customs, since they (as many functionaries seem to do) always had a lengthy discussion about the cloth itself: was it a finished product or was it just cloth? The designation made a big difference on the custom fee. From what I have heard, it is still the same at customs.

To accommodate the shawls, tablecloths, and other items that Penny sold at Le Hibou on Saturday during the day, we had a large trunk built on wheels that stood upright so that it would open and its contents could be displayed on shelves. When not in use we would just close it, lock it, and store it in a corner. At first only the cloth was sold, then Penny started to make dresses using the material. Thus started the Chac Mool Boutique. The boutique retained a connection with Le Hibou since we had numerous fashion shows at our new location on Sussex.

Chac-Mool Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican stone statue.

Bearded Owner Charged!

Entertaining Mr. Sloane!

Bearded Owner Charged - Ottawa CitizenWhile on Bank Street, I was charged by the City of Ottawa for operating a public hall without a licence. Some neighbour, obviously not a fan of good music, complained about the noise. So I was charged, perhaps because, as the newspaper reporting seemed to think important, I was a “bearded man”. Usefully, my partner Harvey Glatt had a friend Arnie Goldberg who was a lawyer. He took on the case. The plaintiff was at court on the appointed day. Arnie very cleverly remanded the case, and then he remanded, and remanded, and remanded until one day the plaintiff was not there, so the judge promptly threw the case out. Le Hibou won the case, but we lost on fees.

In November, 1966, Le Hibou presented "Entertaining Mr Sloane," a riotous farce which had been a hit the previous year on the London, England stage. Besides the usual advertisement, Penny and I wondered how we could publicise it in a different way. We came up with the idea of using a prop from the play, a coffin that several people carried very solemnly up and down the Sparks Street Mall hoping to catch attention and also get a picture in the paper. Penny’s task was to call the newspaper from a phone booth and asked them what was happening—a clever idea in theory, but in practice it backfired since the answer from the reporter was, “Well, it's coming up to Remembrance Day, so it likely has something to do with that.”

On another occasion we decided to use a walking sandwich board, but who would do it? We approached my brother-in-law, Alan, who was about sixteen years of age and over six feet tall, and he reluctantly agreed. But he did it his way, in his inimitable fashion. He walked slowly up and down the Sparks Street Mall with the sandwich board on his back and front, reading a book, smoking a corn cob pipe, and donning a flat straw hat, oblivious to startled passers-by. His odd demeanour and sandwich board caught the eye of an Ottawa Citizen photographer (the Citizen was located on Sparks Street then) and next day, to our great delight, his photo, sandwich board and all, appeared in the newspaper. So, for the play, "The Duchess of Malfi,” a modern version of a gay Jacobean drama, we were able to attract attention and perhaps a few more spectators.

Move to Sussex

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee

One impediment to profit, so I thought, was the size of the coffee house. The stage and backstage took a lot of space, and we could only accommodate 60 to 65 people. With a larger venue, things, I thought, would be different. It would also have been different for our performers since we really did not have a space for either a dressing room or a backstage room. For a play it was worse as the stage and backstage took a lot of space. In the front, we had a small kitchen and an even smaller room for storage (when we had plays, we stuffed tables there). So to accommodate performers we kept a space for them in the back near the door. It was not private, and while artists like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, or Ian and Sylvia, did not mind chitchatting with fans, others were more reserved. Ian and SylviaFor those who wanted refuge between sets, it was the kitchen. Obviously the room was too small, and the fees for a solo artist had increased.

For theatre, it was worse. We also needed extra space not only for the stage but for the off-stage actors who needed space either on the side or back of the stage. This would really cut in on seating space and of course reduce revenues at the door. For the plays I had retrieved discarded black drapes which were called “limbo” at the CBC. Many were torn or no longer had a matching section. We stitched them together with black thread, and I don’t think anybody noticed the mismatch. We had by now acquired a few regular stage lights and one rheostat capable of dimming the lights. The low ceiling was a nightmare for the lighting director, who had to sit among the audience to control the lights. The brush with the law concerning a noise complaint was also a constant concern. We kept the back door closed, but was the previous complainant ready to strike again?

NCC Architect John LeaningIt was time to look for another venue. I started researching possible sites, preferably in a commercial area in the centre town area. But no site looked promising. I then called John Leaning, Chief Architect with the National Capital Commission, whom I had met when I wrote The Fulcrum article on the proposed twenty-five-year plan for the new campus. A week later John called to say that he might have a place for Le Hibou.

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.