Of all the institutions formal and informal, this was a man’s domain. This is the place where politics and sports were discussed with passion and humour city leaders and dirt farmers were treated the same in the shiny chrome and black leather chair.
The barbershop has certainly changed over the years. Even the traditional barber pole has become absent in many cases. Hair is “done’ in salon with stylists. Washing sinks and head massages have replaced a good clean hot cream straight razor shave.
However, the institution still does exist, in small pockets, and in particular in Pat’s barbershop.
Pat Thompson has seen the landscape of barbering change. In fact, when he started in the business about 43 years ago there were eight barbershops in the valley. Today there are a number of places to get your hair “done” three in the valley but only three that focus on barbering men’s hair.
Today the cigars are gone, the jokes come in fits and bursts, but if a few are gathered, waiting for their turn on the seat, conversation can be lively.
“We solve a lot of problems,” he says with a sparkle in his eye. “Everyday we have sitting of town council, the legislature and the House of Commons.
Other similarities still exist. Pat still has the chair he has used for most of his career. The decor is sparse, with a mirror, a blue bottle of barbicide, a coat rack and velvet painting. His strop is still attached to his chair, although the rest of his shaving kit is in the museum.
After more than four decades in the business you would think he would want to retire, the problem is he said he’s never worked a day in his life.
He said he knows many people who are looking forward to retirement. Because they work in a job, they do not necessarily like, but the money is good.
“I’ve never really had a bad day,” he said. “I spoke to Ron Siddon of Sid’s Barbershop, and he said he missed the people. It’s just been a lot of fun, some people’s sole purpose in life is to make people happy.”
The social aspect drew him into barbering. His family came to the valley when he was 12, and he remembers his dad taking him to Art Lambert’s barbershop near where the Diana is now situated.
“There was always quite a gathering, you would head in Saturday and guys would, sit in there all afternoon,” he said.
He studied barbering at NAIT and went into partnership with Mel Musclemen at the Victory Barbershop in 1969. In 1973, he and his wife bought out the partnership and went into business. In 1975, he moved into the lobby of the hotel on Railway Avenue where he worked until 1979.
In 1979, Bob Llewellyn bought the building on Centre Street where Pat’s Barbershop currently sits. He moved right in and in fact, they were still renovating across the hallway while he was cutting hair.
When he started, a haircut was only 75 cents and a shave was 50 cents. Since then he raised his prices to a whopping $9, and that was in 1996.
When he got into the business, barbershops were still the social institution that made them famous. He said the long hair of the 70’s contributed to a slowdown in business, as more men began to go to salons. He learned how to cut hair in the new longer style and continued through.
He also said the art of barbering has fallen by the wayside. Know how and a sturdy pair of scissors has been exchanged for clippers with guides and guards. He uses a clipper, but has never warmed up to plastic guides. He said every person’s head has a different shape and a guide doesn’t take that into account
Some of his clients have spanned the generations, seeing the children, and then grandchildren of some of his clients come and go.
Thompson is now 64 and has his own grandchildren, he shows no signs of slowing down.
“There are probably not a lot that can look back and truly say they enjoyed their career,” he said.
“I’m already retired!”