When Jim Canton got into the business 51 years ago Sarnia had 102 barbershops and all of them were thriving, he says.
“It was 1965 and everybody got their hair cut every two weeks. We were busy,” he said, chatting while taking a little off the top for customer Joe Bax.
For years, Canton opened at 5:30 a.m. so his customers could get a cut on the way to work.
“But then the long hair came in and people didn’t get their hair cut as much,” he said. “We thought it was going to be a passing trend, but long hair was in for 28 years.”
By the 1970s, barbering schools like the one he trained at in Windsor began shutting down, replaced by hair styling schools.
“A lot of barber shops went out of business too,” said Canton. “But I stuck it out.”
Canton originally operated on Wellington Street after purchasing Kirk’s Barber Shop from Ray Kirk. Thirty years ago he moved to a small location next to the bustling Georgian Shop Restaurant on Mitton Street near George.
At the time, the intersection was a going concern adjacent Sarnia General Hospital with lots of foot traffic.
“You have to be dedicated to be a barber,” said Canton, now 70 years old. “And you have to be patient. You’ve got to listen to people. They need to be able to trust you and feel they can vent.
“My customers can trust me. It all stays here,” he said pointing to himself.
When he retires at the end of this month he’s going to miss the long debates on politics in his shop. But after a nasty bout of double pneumonia this winter, he says it’s time.
Canton’s had his share of prominent customers who came regularly over the years, and considered many of them friends. The late Norm Alix was among them, as were a good number of doctors and former police Chief Jack MacLaughlan.
A plaque on the wall was given to him by MacLaughlan in 1990 as a show of thanks for something Canton made for the chief.
In fact, the walls at Kirk’s Barber Shop are filled with photos, posters and decorations from satisfied customers over the decades.
Canton seldom, if ever, took a vacation. On weekends and holidays, he offered haircuts to men in the hospital or nursing homes.
After he retires on July 29, he intends to continue accepting hospital, in-home and nursing home appointments.
It’s tough these days to find a trained barber, skilled at shaving and shorter haircuts. There are only three or four barbers left in Sarnia, said Canton.
“I’m ready,” he said. “People like me work their whole lives so they can relax later. I’ll miss the people and I thank them for their patronage.
“I hope I did a good job.”
Kirk’s Barber Shop will be open until July 29 from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. After that, call 519-466-1383 for an appointment.