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.
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.
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Early music performers
Along with four other young brass instrument performers from the GGFG Band I played one evening at the first location. We performed for about an hour ( I think ) on a stairwell landing. We played music for brass quintet – a mixture of classic transcriptions and original modern stuff – certainly not the type of music for which Le Hibour was noted. We weren’t paid and had to get permission from the Musicians’ Union to do the performance for free. I can’rt remember the year, but it certainly was soon after the Rideau location opened.We were excited about playing in Ottawa’s first coffee house.