Pierre Cochard started one of Alberta’s first topless joints
Pierre Cochard ensconces himself on the couch in his home near Stony Plain Road, surrounded by the curios and relics of his past.
One framed and signed photo shows him shaking hands with Muhammad Ali when he came to visit Edmonton in the 1970s. And just above some family photos, hanging over the dining room table, is a portrait of Cochard painted by Pierre Roland Renoir, great-grandson of Pierre Auguste Renoir.
Yet nothing shows that this living room belongs to Pierre of Chez Pierre, one of the first topless joints in Alberta.
Much has been written about the former owner of the iconic strip club on 105th Street. Now 87, he had actually never planned to settle in Canada when he arrived in 1950 to work in the logging industry.
“I didn’t intend to be an immigrant,” Cochard says. “My boxing manager said, ‘Pierre, you need to get back in shape. I know a friend in Quebec, Canada.’ I said, ‘Where the hell is that?’ ”
That six-month foray into Quebec’s backwoods turned into the beginning of a new life in Canada. Three years after landing in Quebec, he and his lifelong friend, Henry Cinnamon, were lured out to Alberta by billboards reading, “Young men, go west.”
Upon their arrival, Cochard showed some serious entrepreneurial chops. He became a contractor and later, a chuckwagon operator, partnering with Cinnamon to sell hot lunches to construction workers.
And although Cochard did go to Belgium to see if he could live there again, he says it just didn’t feel the same after so many years in Canada.
“My family back (there) said I was no longer Belgian,” he says. “It felt totally different. I couldn’t get used to it.”
When he returned to Alberta, he met his second wife Darlene, who would go on to dance in Chez Pierre, the storied strip club that put him on the map.
Back in 1978, in a story in the Journal, he predicted he would run Chez Pierre for at least five more years. He ran it for nearly 40, and Cochard became famous for instigating the first Miss Nude Edmonton contest, as well as bringing the first male strippers and the first topless and bottomless strippers to the city.
Cochard finally handed over the reins to his then 21-year-old grandson, Jesse, in 2010.
When Jesse asks his grandfather to describe his legacy to Edmonton, Cochard shrugs. In his eyes, Edmonton and Canada actually left their mark on him.
“I’m lucky to be here. I’m lucky to wake up in Canada, the best country in the world.”