“Remember that no one lasts forever so love ’em while they’re still around”.–Will Huggins
Yesterday Leslie Hodge died and I found out about it on Facebook this morning. She was decades younger than me and I am furious– as I am supposed to go first–not someone good like her. Leslie always remained true to herself and remained a friend. When I wrote this piece years ago she came on to the now defunct Open Salon blogging site to say what I had meant to her. Well today Leslie, even though you are not here, I am going to tell you how much you meant to me one day. When I met you on a remote street corner at some random time in Berkeley California you made me smile. I knew that you and Ottawa would always be there for me no matter what. Your face and words that day were my salvation. God rest your soul. Leslie is mentioned in my book Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac as Savannah Devilles was part of my soul and will always be.
I had to write about the closing of Savannah Devilles twice, and although things might be repeated and seemed overlapped, each story has its points. This is the story of the strangers that came to my store Savannah Devilles and the “sign” they created that the city of Ottawa deemed not suited to the architecture of the building. It is dedicated to all those that strive to be different.
“It’s ridiculous!”, Linda Seccaspina says of the city of Ottawa’s intervention over the artwork outside her store.
“Seccaspina has a point. She has an original turn of mind, entrepenurial zeal and a proven track record in a small business. Not only that she hired a local artist who paints under the name of Emily to decorate her store.”
“She is exactly the kind of person the city of Ottawa should be trying to attract to downtown Rideau Street which is distinctly down – at – the heels in recent years.”
“Ottawa City Hall may live to regret the day it tangled with Linda Seccaspina.”
Ottawa Citizen 1995 Susan Riley
After my store Flash Cadilac I opened Savannah Devilles and it was part of my life I will never forget.
No one ever complains when “Johnny” or “Susy” makes a sports team. Accolades and scholarships are awarded to those that succeed in the sports world. But in most cases if you were 17 years old, and different before the world of Glee, you were most likely to get just a pat on the back. Actually, you would probably get more of a grimace and a wave of the hand.
When I opened Savannah Devilles I had no idea what the store was going to turn into. Times had changed since the Flash Cadilac era and somehow it became more of a hang out for the young and incredibly hip. A few of these kids had a good home life, but most were not accepted by their parents because they were different. I understood them because I had always been like them, and was never going to change.
To say I loved these kids like they were my very own is an understatement. Initially they were strangers. Throughout the weeks and months, each one showed an unbelievable talent, and we all became very close. Like me, a lot of these kids had left home at barely 15 and were living where they could.
I used to have a big change jar at the counter and any customer could donate to it. If some kid needed some food or bus fare he or she was welcome to take what they needed on the condition that he replace the money in the jar. I had parents call me sometimes asking me if I had seen their child. Most times I could help them with information and kind of act like a liaison between them. Each week it seemed a few more kids would come into my store and the “family” began to burst at the seams.
Soon, the Savannah Devilles Project began. I called it a project because so many of them had talents that needed to be shared. Each one of them excelled in something, and they needed to know how important they were to the world. We had live performances in the store windows on Saturdays. Artists brought in their work to display and sell. Budding fashion designers, and writers brought their wares in for others to see and admire. It had simply become a community that had started with strangers.
Then the painting began almost like Michelangelo did in the Sistine Chapel. The masterminds were: “the artist formerly known as Emily”, Karren Squarejane Halley and Sybil Lamb. Karren said they collaborated in the dirt and the grass in their backyard while they slammed paint around on planks of wood. The individual plank paintings took anywhere from 2- 8 hours each and the multiple skulls painted on the facade of the concrete took about another three or four days.
The skulls were the most tedious due to the multi-ridged texture of the concrete and the numerous skulls that were painted.
As Sybil explained to me in an email a few weeks ago,
“Painting 668 skulls on TEXTURED COREGATED CEMENT is a “bish” !”
People would come from all over and admire the work these kids were doing. Talented artists in their own right were finally being recognized for what they were creating.
“And if there is one person who can possibly save the inner core of this city from the campaign to turn it into a more congested version of a generic shopping centre it’s Linda Seccaspina”
Derek Raymaker 1997 The Ottawa Express
In the end I stood up to City Hall just like the kids that came into my store did for their own lives everyday. I exercised my artistic license and told the City of Ottawa to stick it where the sun did not shine. Every piece of art work was removed and all the skulls were painted over except for just one. That lone skull was left there as a reminder to everyone that:
It’s okay to be gay or straight,
It’s okay to be short or fat,
It’s okay to be tall and thin,
The bottom line is,
It’s okay to be different!
Many years later I am proud to say that these strangers that turned into my family went on to become recognized citizens of the world. They have become artists, writers, teachers, editors, government workers and the list goes on.
It was not me, the clothing or anything else that created Savannah Devilles. It was each and every stranger that came into that store that was not generic, boring, or typecast. They molded it into what it became. I am so proud of all of you for becoming what you wanted to be and staying true to yourselves
(me, lezlie, andrew etc.)
hi there, i dont know if you remember me but i sure remember you. I have infact thought of you often over the years. i just happened to see your post about rock junction and knew immediately i found you! I am embarassed to say i stole from you, i was a street kid in the 80s and shoplifted some clothes i was caught and charged. You heard my story and gave me a chance. You dropped the charges and i think i worked a little to pay some of it off if i remember correctly. Youll never know how much this affected me. It changed me in many ways. I eventually got off the streets and followed a bf to Niagara to get away from bad habits. I never looked back. Ive been here 30 years now. I make battle vests and do some wardrobe design for stage wear movies and film…fanADDix is my page. I have been working with the homeless here for the last 4 years also. This has always been something I wanted to do and i finally get to. This is absolutely because I met a successful, strong, kind stranger who understood me. Who gave me a chance and showed me what a healthy punk rock life could be. Im elated to put a name to the face in my memories and THANK YOU will never ever be enough Gillian Underhill
Some of the cast:
Just a few of the ‘kids’ that are all grown up now.
Karren Squarejane Halley– artist and mother
Jesse Staniforth– teacher, author, reporter at NATION Magazine
The Art of Sybil Lamb– artist and the Picasso of our time
Denise Robinson – the original body piercer, irish dancer, mother and author
Tik Tok Tom (Tom O’Leary)– artist and Metal Sculpture God
Howard Sonnenburg-— friend. musician, and designer
Robin Dostaler– fashion designer
Devin Goulden- chef and father extraordinaire
Laurie- Talented former Tank Girl lost somewhere in the UK
Deejay Leslie – Internationally renowned DJ- RIP
Lisa LaTulip– Pin-up Queen and awesome Mother
Holly Graven– writer, baker, and mother
Jake Kennedy– Government of Canada, Treaty Manager BC Indian and Northern Affairs
Kevin and Christina Preece– Filmmaker, Producer, Administrator at zombieinfo.com etc. etc. etc.
Julia Vyse– author, Digital Media Guru-ess
Dave Anthony Tiberi- Cosmetician and Twin Peaks Authority
Sandra Haydon– mother and loving soul.
Andrew Trebble- computer guru
Mike Razzle-Punk Rocker forever
To the rest of my merry crew – I could not post everyone, and apologies to anyone that feels left out. I love each one of you; always remember that. Even if your name is not here you are still embedded in my mind.
If I was told I could only do one last essay this is the one that I would do.