Potbelly Boutique

Ottawa's first light show artists
Ottawa’s first light show artists

The large trunk on wheels which opened up into a mini-store called Chac Mool in the day time moved with us to Sussex Drive. But more than Guatemalan napkins and tablecloths or dress material came on the scene. Penny started designing and sewing more and more dresses. As it grew, more room was required and Penny found a small space for a boutique on the Sparks Street Mall two steps from Elgin Street. Her store was a walk down, with the Imperial Barber Shop on one side and her own shop on the other. The name changed as well. Penny had acquired an old Quebecois potbelly stove, which she painted a bright pink, and the shop was renamed the Potbelly Boutique.

The store was one, if not the first, boutique in Ottawa, and the link with Le Hibou remained as her fashion shows were always held at the coffee house. I tried to help by bringing visuals to the show. For one of the shows, I did a bit of film which would be shown concurrently. One segment featured a model (Carolyne) elegantly dressed in a long evening dress barbequing a hot dog on a long stick at the Centennial Flame on the front lawn of Parliament. While filming, a Mountie spotted us and rushed over muttering admonishments and banning us from the site. But we got the shot anyway.

Fashionable Dress
Fashionable Dress

On another occasion a newly arrived Vancouverite proposed a new type of light show that originally came from San Francisco and had quickly made its way to Vancouver. It consisted of an overhead projector, ordinary cooking oil and food colouring and a glass baking dish. Since the food colouring and the water didn’t mix with the oil, it created an interesting effect, the beginnings of the light shows. A few drops of various colours in the oil would produce beautiful globules as we tilted the glass dish and used the overhead projector to project the effect on the wall.. The globules danced on the wall during the fashion show. We thought this pretty exciting then, but it was a far cry from the computer generated light shows used for rock concert these days. Nevertheless, I still remember it with a smile. Others were impressed as well. The combination of large, loosely crocheted dresses on braless models, Mondrian style dresses, and the vibrant colours combined with the light show so impressed an Ottawa television producer that he did a half hour show, touting it as an “avant garde” fashion show for Ottawa.

One reply on “Potbelly Boutique”

Potbelly Boutique
In 1967 my older sister Norah Heffernan purchased the most beautiful beaded shirt from the potbelly. It was navy blue, heavy cotton, with the most intricate beadwork on the front. Never did get a photo but had this shirt for years and years. I would wear it too when she didn’t have it on which was most of the time. My sister was a regular at the Hibou even spending an evening walking around Ottawa with Bruce Cockburn. She met John Anderson there in 1968 and they took off by train from Ottawa to Vancouver in the spring of 1969. They lived for a time on Radar Beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island where my nephew Michael was born in the hospital in Tofino. Well they actually names him Rufus Jessie Lyman but he changed it to Mike as soon as he could. Norah died in 2004 of cancer age 53 in Edmonton. John died in 2000 of a massive heartbattack. I am still going strong living on Quadra Island after having spent around 25 years on Salt Spring Island. I knew Peter Paul Lafrenierre and spent time at Hibou in the winter of 1973 – 74 when the cafe was having all those financial troubles. Claire Heffernan

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