The Gentlemen's Barbershop team

By Catherine Phillips, August 21, 2017

Challenge for Change (C4C) has been recording conversations across the country for several months, and we’ve captured incredible conversations along the way.

Since May, we’ve heard from mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, partners, and friends. We’ve heard stories of loss, of change, and of hopeful beginnings. Ultimately, what we’ve seen is that, despite our outward differences, the undercurrent of our lives all follow a similar track.

After traveling by train from coast to coast and back again, we started to wonder: how do we cultivate even more conversations? That’s how we found ourselves setting up shop in the home of the male tête-à-tête: barbershops.

Much like a classic British pub, the barbershop remains a place for rich, uninhibited conversation. There’s something about the experience that undoubtedly stimulates a connection between strangers. Sitting in a chair, covered in a gown that flows from shoulder to toe, you may never quite make eye contact as your barber swivels your chair to and fro, but somewhere between sitting down and acquiring the perfect look, you get to know one another.

Knowing this, naturally, C4C had to go.

We reached out to Gentlemen’s Barbershop in Edmonton and were put in touch with Jenny, a young, charismatic Vancouver native who immediately got what Challenge for Change was all about.

Conversations? She asked. Yep, they were happening all day, everyday at Gentlemen’s Barbershop. This was a sentiment that was repeated by both the half-dozen staff and dozens of clientele we encountered inside this charming little shop.

Located in the Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre in North West Edmonton, Gentlemen’s Barbershop is no doubt a social hub. From the moment we arrived, it was was nothing short of a stop and go for the tales of men from generation to generation. We even met a man named Henri who had played a part in the original Challenge for Change back in the late 60s. Small world!

We also met retired journalist Alan, who upon being approached about participating, was as cool and willing as anyone could have been about recording a conversation with a man he had never met.

“Yeah, why not” was a phrase we heard a lot that day. What may have seemed like a difficult task – finding a bunch of men in a crowded room to talk about their life – wasn’t quite the close shave we expected.  

Alan was seen by Justin, a twenty-something Edmontonian who had only recently found himself in the trade professionally. The two could not have been more different, but as we’ve learned along the way, they had more in common than met the eye.

Within the first few snips, the men learned that Alan currently lives in the same area that Justin had grown up going to school. From there, Alan’s retirement was contrasted with Justin’s burgeoning career. Alan’s love of the city was juxtaposed by Justin’s urge to start fresh in Ontario. And while Alan was enjoying this new, slower phase of his life, Justin’s was only just revving up — with a baby on the way come winter.

Facilitator Catherine listens in as Justin consults with his client Alan

Theirs was a conversation about where they had come from and where they were going, and it didn’t take long for Alan to offer sage advice to the young soon-to-be dad. For the final few minutes, Alan let Justin in on the beauty of fatherhood, reminiscing about all that a father can learn and experience, and the importance of loving and supporting your children, above all.

It was all part and parcel with the domain, Justin assured me. “These are the kinds of conversations we have everyday, all day,” he said. “That’s the thing about barbershops, you know? People forgot that barbershops are there for men to go and talk shit to each other.”

The nature of the barbershop, the constant ebb and flow, is a reminder of the importance of finding common ground in even the most fleeting interactions. Everyone has a story worth hearing, you just have to be willing to tease it out.

Listen to Alan and Justin’s conversation here:

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