After close to seven decades of first-rate service, Stettler barber Vern Dempsey is closing his doors for the last time Thursday.
“It’s been 67 years in this same spot,” said Dempsey during a recent chat at the shop.
He’s worked in two buildings located on the same lot on Main Street, with the current one having been constructed about 30 years ago.
Dempsey grew up in southern Saskatchewan.
“I went to a country school, but I didn’t like school very much,” he said with a smile.
“I was kind of skipping around with it. Dad was reading the Free Press there one night, and said, ‘Well, the barber school in Regina is looking for customers. I think maybe you should think about going in for a barber. You don’t like to go to school, so you should think about that.’
“I thought, well, that’s a good idea – I’m going to go for that. So I went to Regina to the barber school there in the fall of 1949.”
He was just 16 years old at the time.
He finished his studies the following spring, and meanwhile, his father had been considering relocating to Alberta.
“He found a place about 100 miles east of here and a little bit south,” he recalled. “I thought, I’m coming out to Alberta, too. Folks were moving out here that spring, so I came and worked for a thrashing outfit for a couple of years.”
He was also on the lookout for a place to apprentice with a local barber.
“In those days, you went to school for six months and then you apprenticed for a year and a half, and then you wrote your exams. So that’s what I did – I apprenticed with a barber in Coronation and then wrote my exam in Edmonton.
“I then had the chance to rent the pool hall in Consort. The lady there had a restaurant in the front and her husband had run the pool hall. He had passed away, so she was trying to do both. She was older, and she had some girls helping her with the restaurant, but it was a big job for her.”
Dempsey went ahead with renting the pool hall, setting up his barber chair in the corner.
“Of course, it was a small town, so there really wasn’t enough business. So I also drove a school bus, too,” he recalled of his Consort days.
Eventually, his landlady wanted the pool hall back, so he offered to rent the corner where his barbershop service was.
Through a connection, he was introduced to the idea of moving to Stettler. With a shortage of business in Consort, the time seemed right.
Dempsey worked with the barber – Ivar McIvar – for 25 years.
“Then he sold out to me, and stayed on for five years working for half days,” he explained.
“I’m the last barber in town,” Dempsey added with a laugh.
For Dempsey, it’s been a great way to make a living, but it’s also been a wonderful means of being involved in community life.
“Every guy is different. They all talk about different things,” he said, adding how the variety of conversations has never ceased to be fascinating.
“There’s lot of gossip. If there is any gossip around town, they will be telling you about it,” he added with a laugh. “They just like to have a good visit with you.
“And then the next guy, well, he doesn’t want to talk,” he said.