The Craft of Barbering

An homage to the tradition of Dogwood Strip.




When Chris Goulet was 14 years old, his brother put a set of clippers in his hand and said, “Give me a mohawk.” Even back then, Chris had the touch—the ability to sculpt, to design, to create—and hair was the perfect medium. Mistakes could be corrected with patience and time, and there would always be fresh material to work with.

After high school, though, Chris trained in welding, another form of creation that led to a position in the painting shop where he was working. It provided a good living until, about six years ago, he needed carpal tunnel surgery. A short time of reflection revealed the obvious: he would train as a barber—a career change he’ll never regret.

Chris’s first barbering job was in Dogwood Barber Shop located on the Dogwood Strip near 2nd Avenue, beside what used to be Video Works (now a medical clinic). He became a contractor, renting a chair from Dylan Canterbury, the owner. Well known in both the Comox Valley and Campbell River, Dylan was low-key and unassertive in his presentation, but evidently skillful—a barber for whom Chris has endless admiration and appreciation.

Chris watched in wonder as Dylan’s customers filled his chair, maybe 25 or 30 every day. Chris started with two or three customers a day. Then, some men, maybe the ones who only got a haircut twice a year, decided that, rather than waiting for Dylan, they’d give the new guy a try.

He slowly built his clientele. It wasn’t long before Dylan offered to sell him the shop. Chris and his business partner, Parker, seized the opportunity. The first change they made was turning off Dylan’s beloved CBC Radio One. Other changes included installing a traditional red, white, and blue barber’s pole in the front window, and designing a new logo. Their reputation began to spread across town by word of mouth and on Facebook.

After several years, Parker decided that barbering wasn’t for him, and Wolf MacGillivary joined Chris as a contractor. Wolf ‘s imagination resulted in the current decor that has black and white tiles, in a diamond pattern, covering the floor. The white walls highlight black and white posters. A languid Marilyn Munroe smiles at Bruce Lee across the room. Beside him, a dangerous Clint Eastwood stares out from an Italian-language poster of Il Buoni, Il Brutto, Il Cattiero, the iconic movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Between the two mirrors located on the barber chair side of the shop, a large advertisement for beard oil proclaims this challenge: “Grave Before Shave. Shave Nevermore.” There’s also a Jimi Hendrix Experience poster and a marijuana poster, but the four large mirrors, two on each of the long sides of the shop, and floor-to-ceiling windows on the third wall ensure the place is bright. Wolf manages the turntable, choosing from albums leaning, tidy and in order, beside it.

dogwood barber gallery

Speaking to the tradition of barbering in which the shop stands, Chris wears a barber’s white jacket when on duty. “Dogwood Barber Shop is an homage to the great barbers who have worked in Campbell River,” he explains. As if on cue, an old fisherman reminisces about such barbers. “Pete Garrett [that’s Pete who began in Campbellton then operated Hillside Barber] gave my kid his first haircut, and he just turned 52. Now Pete’s cutting hair at the old folks home.”

Then there were the three generations of Mikes, grandfather, son, and grandson, who had the barber shop downtown, beside the former Beehive Café. The old fisherman, who has been “around here for 79 years,” explains that he “was with Mike until he got that virus and couldn’t work anymore.” Grandson Mike has just retired. Chris mentions Ken Sagawa, another member of the barbering fraternity.

On the foundation of these people and on their stories, Chris is establishing his version of the traditional barber shop as a place where boys and men go to talk, to experience community. He envisions a shop full of people who talk about anything as long as it’s within Chris’s clear but unwritten parameters: people who banter and laugh and tease.

Mothers are welcome to bring their boys for a cut and are welcome to wait, but Chris stresses that Dogwood Barber Shop is not a salon. It has a sink but there aren’t any washing stations. There are straight razors and there are people getting a shave.

And in a barber shop, customers have to be prepared to show up and wait. If you can’t wait, you come back later.

This strong sense of tradition doesn’t mean, however, that Chris and Wolf are locked in the past. Chris stays current by interacting with barbers around the world on social media, where they display their work to each other and provide one another with professional development. Canada, Chris says, is about three years behind London in styles and tastes, but he knows that he’s on the cutting edge. His customers, ranging in age from one or two years to seniors from Yuculta Lodge just behind the barber shop, can trust him.

If trust is evidenced by generosity, skill, and the free flow of easy conversation, trust is exactly what Chris has earned. As the last customer of the day sits in the chair, Chris asks: “How’s the baby?” I get it. He’s a regular. They talk about the family trip to Vegas. After he’s paid up, the young man asks, “Where do you want your prawns?” He’s a fisherman, and two tubs of frozen prawns constitute his tip.

As for the future, Chris hopes for more. More customers, although the shop is plenty busy. Maybe another barber or two after Wolf goes off to barbering school to get his trade papers in January. And more community, including more funny comments like the one by the man who always says, “I need you do something with this mess!” He’s bald. It’s only a beard trim he needs.