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).
Budding 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.