"MY brother. He's a barber too," says Fred Kirby.
I'm at Kirby's Hair Designs in North Vancouver. Inside, classic car models are displayed near vintage red leather barber chairs, one occupied by Fred's next customer, a regular. His red Harley Davidson motorcycle sits outside.
I've just asked who cuts Fred's hair.
Fred and his older brother, Frank, have been cutting each other's hair for years, a tagteam partnership that is coming to an end. Fred is laying down his comb and scissors and moving to Courtenay where he will enjoy his hobbies: restoring cars and custom airbrushpainting motorcycles.
Fred grew up around cars and motorcycles in North Burnaby, hanging out at the neighbourhood garage, helping out where he could. At 16, he joined Frank's motorcycle club, the Catwalkers.
The club may be named from members catwalking their bikes up and down Kingsway, but Fred could manage his wild side. Marriage to Linda Browning helped and, like brother Frank, he took up the steady trade of barbering.
In 1970, Fred was managing the barbershop at the Coach House Inn in North Vancouver. He had roots on the North Shore already through his maternal grandmother, a member of the Capilano First Nation. She and her husband, a Hawaiian fisherman turned logger and longshoreman, produced a daughter, Isabella. Isabella and her husband, Frank Kirby Sr. were the parents of Fred and his siblings.
On the Kirby side, Fred is related to the pioneering Principe family. Principe restaurants and after-hours bottle clubs were well-known in Vancouver's heyday. All the kids, including Fred, put in their time at Principe's Romana restaurant, a PNE landmark.
Uncle Al "the barber" Principe added sports to the family portfolio. He owned racehorses and started the Astoria Boxing Club on the Hastings Street site of the Silver Slipper Dance Hall, rising to become Vancouver's leading boxing promoter. Al, self-described as "one hell of a shaver," built the Hub Barber Shop on Carrall Street into a 15-shop chain.
"I worked for my uncle for a year," says Fred. "He moved me around to every one of his shops so I could learn the trade." Maybe some of Al's showmanship rubbed off during this apprenticeship. The two brought closed-circuit boxing to Vancouver, and Fred and Frank went on to sponsor community sports teams for years.
In 1970, Fred was in the right place at the right time. In the days of Oil Can Harry's and Sneaky Pete's nightclubs, the Coach House was moving with the times, booking rock bands and drawing young people. As men's hairstyles went from short back and sides to long and longer, Fred was one of the few barber/stylists who could cut the new look.
Vancouver got the NHL franchise that year and the Canucks players were put up at the Coach House. With the B.C. Lions already there and the Whitecaps bunking in later on, Fred's clientele was built in.
"I had the best waiting room in town: the Coach House lounge and pub. I was the same age as the players and I knew my way around Vancouver. I would cut their hair and then we'd go out and break a few curfews. After hours, we'd be in the shop drinking beer laid on by the brewery reps. It was our man cave."
Uncle Al would have been proud.
Within two years, Fred had expanded the shop from two chairs to eight and bought the business. By 1977, he and Linda were living in North Vancouver, their two children just starting school.
The years have passed, the Kirbys are grandparents and most of his regulars are back to short back and sides.
After 25 years at the Coach House and 15 at the shop on Mountain Highway, Fred is ready for a fresh start. Linda is already living in their new home in Courtenay. There's a 1957 Ford Ranchero waiting to be rebuilt and the 50th anniversary reunion of the Catwalkers to be organized. He's looking forward to exploring his First Nations and Polynesian heritage.
Fred Kirby hasn't a care in the world. Or, maybe just one. Who will cut his hair?
Thanks to Neon Eulogy by Keith McKellar for Principe family information.
Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her at 778-279-2275 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.