521 Sussex Drive

Exterior, 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

Comments

My recollections of Le Hibou

Forgive me is this is repeated somewhere as the electricity went out briefly and I lost the first.. So voila. As the eldest daughter in a low income, French-Canadian family, living in downtown Ottawa, at the ripe old age of 14, I loved music and poetry. I also liked to escape from my responsibilities. I did have three sibblings, after all. I discovered Le Hibou and found it was a place that I could go and enjoy myself unnoticed and alone. I cannot remember all the artists and poets I heard but a few come to mind... Ian and Sylvia Tyson, Gordon Lightfoot, Peter Hodson, Robin Moir, Bruce Cockburn, Raoul Roy, Tex Lecor, Claude Gauthier, Pierre Letourneau, Claude Leveillee, Crosby Stills Nash & Young and so, so many others... I am missing some and am sorry, but will not cheat to go look at lists from the past... I need to test my memory. In spite of its location at the time, I felt safe at Le Hibou and I was in good company. I lived in the area after all. Most of the customers were in university but I was just in high school and was (am) short and small (then) and could easily go unnoticed. I could not afford to eat at Le Hibou but would sip my "hibounade" quietly until it was time for me to go home. I was underage to drink and too shy to mix, so Le Hibou was a wonderful venue for me. It was like my own slice of heaven relly. I loved every minute I spent there during the few years I was able to go. I would go sometimes 3 times a week and even for the Saturday afternoon bands, when they started. I am trying to remember the artists as I write this but at the now ripe "young" age of 62, I remember what a great place it was to have in a quiet city like Ottawa. I only wish I had a better memory and lots of photos too. I wanted to work at Le Hibou but I knew I was too young. I did manage to convince the manager (wish I could remember his name) at the time to let me work for the Lise Masse dinner show. As a "Franco-Ontarian", I needed my fix of French music. and I was going to be there, no matter what. I did work that night but never got paid for my 4 hours. I simply did not care. I got to hear a new artist I had heard about and I was happy. I also gained some experience. The student rate was $1.25 an hour back then and I would have earned a whole 5.00 but I went home with $18.00 in tips. I was never asked back as I guess someone found out that I was only 15 by then. I was proud and happy and went home with mustard all over my very conservative navy blue, long sleeved wool dress, with lace at the collar. Funny, I managed to get my breasts covered in mustard from the smoked meat sandwiches. Today I am a very good but messy cook and get more than mustard on my front. I guess that is why they invented aprons. Mom knew where I was when I disappeared quietly. If she were still alive, she would be telling you the stories. I got into trouble for going so often, but I was all right with that. Not once did I regret it. It was worth it. It was fun, when later on, as I purchased the records of some of the artists I had heard at Le Hibou, that I would tell my mother where I first heard them and she would smile... as if she knew. I always wondered if she sent my father to spy on me at the back of the room while I was there...I will never know. Younger I just wanted to believe that they were worried I would get into trouble. But in the end, I realized that they too liked music. I have talked to my niece (une comedienne) and my nephew (a musician) about Le Hibou and how lucky the artists and the customers were to have such a venue in our City at the time. Most of all they are my memories and fond ones indeed. This is an opportunity for me to say thank you to all who participated in making it possible and to thank all the artists, poets, musicians, technicians, etc.... etc.. UN GROS MERCI to all of you. Thanks for the memories. There is only one thing missing. I talk about the "hibounade" a lot.. As a kid it was really good to me and I remember it had grape juice in it... Some day I would like to make it and enjoy it and pull out my old LPs and listen with my drink in hand... The only thing missing will the the god awful stench of the Gitanes cigarettes... I know why I was and still am a non smoker. Thanks again. Nicole

Meeting a Legend

I was maybe 14, a white kid already steeped in the blues legends that had fuelled the Brit Rock movement of the 60s. Howlin' Wolf was playing at Le Hibou, and I somehow got a ticket and went by myself, waiting through the haze of smoke for his first set to begin. He was bigger than I'd thought, a huge man, moving slowly and carefully. He'd never been my favourite bluesman but he was enthralling, even from a seated position for most of the show. The one or two times he took out his harmonica and played, I paid special attention: I too played harp and wanted to see how he made his sound, a sound you could immediately identify. After the first show to my surprise he didn't disappear, but instead sat at a table near the stage, quietly drinking a glass of beer. None of his bandmates joined him. I couldn't believe my eyes. Howlin' Wolf, just a few feet away from me, sitting by himself. So I gathered my courage and approached the table with great trepidation. Stories of his legendary temper scrolled through my mind. I think I actually called him "Mr. Wolf" and extended my hand; he shook it and I watched my hand disappear inside the huge meaty paw of a man twice my size. I asked him a few inane questions about his harps and couldn't think of a way to keep the conversation going; it was awkward, but he was courtly and polite, and let me depart with my dignity intact. I've never forgotten that night, and I've always tried to apply the simple lessons in dignity and respect that he taught me. Thanks, Hibou.

Add new comment

Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.