COLUMN: On barbers, blacklists and an original pioneering family

Phil Egan

In my forays through Sarnia’s past I sometimes come across nuggets of history too short for a full story, but too fascinating to ignore.

Here are a few….

“It seems to be a funny thing if a man is precluded from trying to make a living.”

With those words, local lawyer N.L. LeSueur sprang to the defense of barber Bloss Waller in the courtroom of Magistrate C.S. Woodrow in April of 1939.

Waller, of 520 Vidal St. S., had been charged under the Industrial Standards Act for the twin offences of opening on a Wednesday and charging only 25 cents for a haircut.

The Barber’s Code provision of the Act mandated a charge of 40 cents for a haircut. Longhaired Sarnians, according to LeSueur, had been travelling to Forest and Camlachie for 25-cent haircuts to avoid paying the extra 15 cents, so Waller was acting only to remain competitive with barbers outside the Code’s jurisdiction.

The unsympathetic judge hammered down a minimum fine of $5, and also levied a whopping $96.50 in costs.

In another tale from 1939, a number of Sarnians had discovered their names appeared on a post office “blacklist.” The “prohibited list” prevented 10,000 Canadians annually from receiving mail.

Their offence was the “misuse of the mails,” usually the result of buying and receiving illegal Irish Sweepstakes tickets. Created in the Irish Free State in 1930, the Irish Sweeps was many Canadians’ first introduction to gambling. Millions of illegal ticket sales were conducted in Canada and the United States. It finally became legal to buy a ticket in 1967.

Finally, this columnist turned 70 this June. I still feel 20 most days, but it is easy to forget how close our link to the past really is.

I recently found a 1922 story about the funeral of Joseph LaForge. Only two months shy of age 90 at his death, Joseph LaForge was said to be the first non-native born in Sarnia. His body was laid out at the family residence at 420 Brock Street South, and then taken to a funeral mass at Our Lady of Mercy Church.

We know that the earliest French-Canadian settlers in Sarnia – the Pare, LaForge and Cazulet families, had located here in the 1790s from the area around Clinton River – present day Mt. Clemens, Michigan.

One of the pallbearers at the funeral was his son, George LaForge. George married my great-aunt Frances. As a boy, I remember my brothers and I shovelling their walk on Maxwell Street, and cutting their grass in summer.

Uncle George was an old man himself by the 1960s, but he remains my own tenuous link to Sarnia’s true founding.