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.
I 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.