talking with Larry Duprey
veteran head shop owner and hemp visionary
by louis with Larry
From Vol. 2 No. 1, 2000
Larry Duprey owns and operates Chanvre en Ville, a store selling hemp and related products, located at 3418-A Park Ave. We met at his store one afternoon to talk about his past in this city and his thoughts on things. We spoke in a nice little space above the main store area, large spools of various hemp materials on one side of us and hemp clothing on the other.
FP: So when did you open your first shop?
Larry: We had the second head shop in Montreal. The first was the Picasso, on Bishop, just south of Ste. Catherine. It’s still there—the guy who owns it just sold it to some of his employees one or two years ago. We opened up Live From Earth in 1970 on Prince Arthur, and we were like the third boutique, third shop on this very dead little street.
There were three shops on the same block between de Bullion and Coloniale. One was Grizzly Fur, a used fur coat store. On the other side of the street was a leather bag shop. We were the first new businesses on Prince Arthur, and we brought a lot of attention to the street. Then other shops started to open, then the restaurants started opening up, Demos being one of the first ones.
During the 70’s Prince Arthur was really the village. In the 80’s they made the mistake of making it into a pedestrian mall. That was around 81 or 82. It was a plan by a guy that hung out with us, he was an architect.
By 72 or 73, there was a nice grouping of used clothing stores, head shops, and there was still traffic on the street. When we came in 69 or 70, there were empty stores, old Chinese laundries, old Jewish tailors, and that’s basically what it was. Mazurka was there, the Polish War Veterans’ Hall was there, which is now Café Campus. They’re still in the building, but they owned the whole thing, the space where Campus is. But anyway, it was a very fun time, and we drew a lot of attention to that part of town.
FP: Was there any kind of analogous place before that, some kind of hip area in the earlier 60’s?
Larry: I would say that downtown around Drummond and Stanley, there were some bars. There was the Bistro, a very French place where you could get baguettes, and French wine— a fabulous hangout. But as far as a hip village goes, nothing came close to Prince Arthur. Because it was the late sixties and early seventies, that was what was apropos at the time, smoking and acid and hippies…
FP: You must’ve sold ZAP Comix…
Larry: Oh yeah, well a lot of what we’re doing right now, you know the old saying, ‘what goes around, comes around’… Many people who knew me back then are amused at the irony that I’m right back where I started. I had sold my interest in the shop to my partners because we had taken in Indian garments from a young Indian guy who was peddling accounting, and he would bring over stuff from India. And he started leaving stuff in the shop on consignment. In fact, we hadn’t even built the shop yet, he had come in. We had a shop that was about as big as this right here (about 14 by 14 feet). It was an amazing little shop that did extremely well. And I got into the Indian thing. I loved to travel. The T-shirts were hot, so I had him bring back a whole bunch of T-shirts, and I sold all the T-shirts, and I thought “This is a really serious business” so I set up my own business doing Indian imports, and that was it, for over twenty years now I’ve worked out of India and many other countries. So I sold my shares in the store, went into wholesale import and trading, and eventually by the eighties became quite successful. The nineties took care of that success.
But it led me to travel all over that part of the world in the 70’s. And on a beach at a New Year’s party in Goa I met a very beautiful, lovely Indian girl who became my wife and mother of my three children, and we’re still married. Surely the most precious thing I’d found in India.
I’d been in India about seven years by then. They had an incredible ticket back then, it was so cheap, even in the 70’s you couldn’t afford not to go. It was an excursion ticket, you had to stay for at least 3 weeks, and you couldn’t stay longer than 4 months. And I spent every winter over there, traveling, drifting around India, basically learning where the craft was, and hanging out, smoking a lot of hashish, and drifting in and out of the different scenes there. Because it was very much the road scene—
FP: There were other Westerners to hook up with…
Larry: Oh yeah, there were a lot of people, that was very much the hip thing, the end of the 60’s, beginning of the 70’s, there was a massive ‘road’ scene there, they called it “the Road to Kathmandu.” The summers of extreme heat in India, they’d spend them in the mountains of Nepal, India or Afghanistan. Most of the time rolling, hand-rolling and processing cheris, uh, hashish.
FP: You’d get like, a job doing that?
Larry: Well, you’d just do it yourself. Produce a certain amount, then in the fall, you’d drift down to Goa, where the tourists started coming in, they’d call it the ‘season,’ pretty much like what happened in Cote d’Azure. People would arrive about mid-December because there was a big New Year’s party every year there. When I met my wife, there were over 10 000 Westerners on a beach, there was more hash smoke than in a pool hall. There was an immense scene for this party, it had been building and building. So you’d come down from the mountains, people would deal their hash, houses were rented for like 10, 15 bucks a month, life was very good and the sea was beautiful…
And that was it. Also during the 70’s I invested in a head shop business which became Canada’s largest paraphernalia distributor, called Northern Toke. And we manufactured many of the types of pipes that are on the market now, they’re just knockoffs of what we actually created. Bongs and papers that we imported from the States… exactly like what is going on now. All of the things that are happening now, happened then. I’m told that in California a lot of the Indian clothing we had is coming back, a lot of the prints we were selling are selling again.
And the popularization of marijuana coming back, this time much stronger.
FP: Especially with the medical stuff…
Larry: Well we didn’t have those things as a backup then, the clothing, the food potential of hemp, all this information that leads one to believe that this is an enormously important resource, um… we just smoked it, and every once in awhile in the fog of the smoke someone would say “You know, it makes good rope. Sails were made out of it.” But we never got past that, you know, the information had actually been expunged. And then this is the most important textile resource the world had, or has, and it’s not a part of our history books. To have had that taken away, they had to consciously manipulate history.
FP: But now it’s hard to suppress.
Larry: Well, now it’s past subversion. They’ve failed miserably at suppressing it, and now they’re backing up so fast they’re tripping over themselves. You can see it happen with medical, “Yes medical, but NO recreational.” Well, we heard that five years ago, they were saying “Yes industrial, but NO medical.”
FP: Well now even the police are saying that anything under 30 grams shouldn’t be persecutable.
Larry: The policemen simply just don’t have the time. Also, they’re having to bust their friends, their nephews, their kids… It always was the young who took the beating. They rarely prosecute the 45 year old, they’ll throw his joint away and say You should know better. Now these cops have a problem, they’re running into their own relatives. It’s, it’s over.
FP: It’s just a question of formalities now, legalities…
Larry: How to regulate it, who’s going to be involved, how do you involve the underground.
FP: It’s almost resistant by nature, though, to what they do with cigarettes, have just a few major producers, and tax it. Pot grows anywhere.
Larry: Well, they could become creative. The problem the government has, it’s very simple: if it doesn’t deal with outlaws, take for example the case of liquor during prohibition, there was an existing alcohol industry, it never really disappeared, it went into industrial alcohol. There was an existing infrastructure, there was a tradition. They could deal with these people. Of course they didn’t deal with the mafia, these people in the underworld were basically minor distributors, not manufacturers, just importing and distributing, which could be done by anyone. In the case of bud, of cannabis, it becomes a different issue, because it’s almost totally, if not actually totally underground. Very independent, very paranoid, only beginning now to understand that they have strength in numbers. There’s some organization happening in central BC, growers’ organizations, who are trying to get together so that they can be part of the medical question.
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