Ottawa hairstylist to the stars dead at 82

OTTAWA — An Ottawa hair stylist whose scissors tended to the tresses of some of the country’s biggest political players has died.

Rinaldo Canonico died Wednesday after undergoing heart surgery at an Ottawa hospital.

So gregarious and charismatic that he was known in political circles simply by his first name, Rinaldo was 82, although he often tried to keep his true age as secret as he did the stories that were shared by his famous clients.

“Anybody who’d ever met him wouldn’t forget him,” said Peter Clark, an international trade expert and close friend of Rinaldo, and his wife, Pat. “He didn’t operate in half measures.”

Over more than four decades cutting hair in downtown Ottawa, he cut the hair of MPs, senators, judges and celebrities. Prime ministers including Stephen Harper, Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau all reportedly sat in his chair, as did many of their wives.

But it was his friendship with Mila Mulroney that brought him the most fame.

In 1993, he described how he kept her trademark brunette bob looking good, telling the Ottawa Citizen, “I add special effects highlights with cellophane so her hair always look shiny.”

He was appointed by the Mulroney government to the board of the Federal Development Bank of Canada, sparking charges that the prime minister was so enamoured of patronage, he extended it as far as his wife’s hairstylist.

But the appointment was well deserved, said Clark: “He understood business.”

Rinaldo, who had a history of heart trouble and had been in hospital for some time, appeared to be doing better during a recent visit, Clark said. Another friend said he sounded upbeat, but died suddenly Wednesday afternoon.

“He’d actually been fairly bubbly in the morning,” said Clark. “He went very quickly in the end.”

Rinaldo’s salon was once voted the best in Canada, and his work was known around the world. His famous clients included Sophia Loren; Sarah, the Duchess of York; Queen Noor of Jordan and even former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, whose signature bouffant was softened by his touch.

Clark said Rinaldo’s fame was no accident.

“He felt if you weren’t going to be the best at something, what was the point in doing it,” he said. “He set out to prove himself and he did it.”

Rinaldo arrived in Canada from Italy in 1956 at only 21, having already apprenticed in one of Italy’s best salons. He spent more than a decade cutting hair at the Ritz Hotel in Montreal before returning to Ottawa and setting up a salon at Place de Ville in 1968. In 1993 he moved to the World Exchange Plaza, and in 2008, to a shop in the Byward Market that still bears his name.

His shops were franchised, and there are now four locations in the city. Rinaldo himself stopped cutting hair more than five years ago, leasing out his Byward Market salon in 2012.

Beyond hair salons he also owned several restaurants in Ottawa, and was a community leader and frequent generous donor to local causes.

His wife, Pat, was by his side always, as his business partner. He also loved to cook and to golf and was determined to be great at both.

“He was a great man,” said Clark. “We miss him.”

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