Le Hibou (The Owl) was Ottawa’s first coffee house, founded in 1960 by Denis Faulkner, a student from the University of Ottawa who wanted a place where young Ottawans could meet, listen to music, play chess, and drink coffee. The club became a popular night time meeting place – Denis even met his future wife Penny Knight at the club.
One summer, the newlyweds took a trip to Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador in a Volkswagen van. They bought hand-woven shawls and cloth from a seller who would become their supplier, sending shipments to Canada on a regular basis. Upon returning to Ottawa, Penny started her ‘Chac Mool’ boutique, selling her finds out of Le Hibou on Saturday afternoons. At first only the shawls and cloths were sold, but then Penny started to make dresses from the material. On later trips to New York to visit her brother, Penny also bought textile remnants for her designs.
After Le Hibou moved to a larger location on Sussex Drive in the late winter of 1965, Penny found a small space for a boutique on the Sparks Street Mall, around the corner from Elgin Street. She acquired an old potbelly stove, which she painted bright pink, and called her shop the Potbelly Boutique.
Potbelly became the first boutique in Ottawa geared for the younger generation, and Le Hibou served as a location for numerous fashion shows. For one of the shows a film was shown concurrently that included a shot of a model dressed in a Potbelly original, barbequing a hot dog over the Centennial Flame. They got the shot before a Mountie could rush over to admonish and banish them from the Parliament building’s lawn. On another occasion a new type of light show that originated in San Francisco was used. It consisted of cooking oil and water-based food colouring in a glass baking dish that when tilted and turned on an overhead projector created a psychedelic show of colourful swirling globules. “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.” recalled Denis Faulkner on his blog Recollections.
Denis Faulkner sold Le Hibou in 1968, and the coffee house closed in May 1975, but Potbelly boutique remained in business until at least 1978. Ottawa articles credit Penny’s boutique with styles ranging from Medieval inspired silk velvet evening dresses to terry-velour pant suits. I can find no articles about Potbelly Boutique or Penny Faulkner dating after November 1977.