Brick Wall, Counter and Owl

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.

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