Cutting hair and cracking jokes for 50 years

Accounting’s loss has been Coquitlam’s gain.

For 50 years.

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That’s how long Ted Bordeleau has been cutting hair at Plaza Hairstyling and Barbers in the old Burquitlam Plaza on Clarke Road, an occasion he marked Wednesday with snacks and refreshments for his customers and $2 haircuts — but only if they showed up with an actual $2 bill because that’s what he charged when he first started in the business Aug. 1, 1968.

And if a customer didn’t have a $2 bill, since it’s been out of circulation since 1996, Bordeleau said he’d be happy to sell them one of his — “for $25.”

In Ted’s venerable shop, every story has a punchline.

Even the one about the elderly customer who expired in his chair back when he was learning his trade at Moller’s Barber School on Hastings Street in Vancouver. After perfecting his straight-edge shaving skills first on a bottle, then a balloon, then other trainee barbers, Ted had finally graduated to giving shaves to real, live customers, many of them elderly or impoverished who put their necks on the line for the young apprentices in exchange for cut-rate haircuts. When one of those customers failed to flinch after Ted nicked him, he called over his instructor, who checked if the client was breathing, then confirmed the worst.

“I cut him three times,” Ted recalled. “No wonder he didn’t bleed.”

Ted almost didn’t become a barber. He loved numbers and was studying accounting when his grandfather urged him to pick up clippers because, he told Ted, “We need barbers.”

Ted trained at Moller’s for six months, then embarked on a two-year apprenticeship, as per the requirements to obtain a provincial barbering license at the time. He said he would have stayed another six months at barber school but he couldn’t afford the bandages.

Again with the punchlines.

Over the years, Ted has cut hair for generations of families as customers whose locks he first tended when they were kids bring in their kids and, eventually, their grandkids. He has trimmed politicians' pates, CEOs' sideburns and manes of people who’ve walked out of his shop without paying.

Some of his longtime customers travel hours out of their way to keep getting their hair cut by Ted. And when they walk through his door, there’s no guarantee they’ll be served right away because Ted doesn’t take appointments.

Ted met his wife, Jean, in front of his barbershop. She drove by in a bright pink 1957 Buick with fins, and Ted loves cars, so he ran out the door to ask for the driver’s phone number.

“She wasn’t quick enough to give me the wrong number,” Ted said.

He’s also found love for some of his customers, matching them up with female friends, acquaintances or just regular visitors who passed by as they shopped at the once bustling plaza.

Oh yeah, there’s that.

As the big city caught up to the suburbs, Burquitlam Plaza lost much of its bustle. The butcher shop left, so did the video store. SkyTrain severed part of the sprawling parking lot and the Safeway grocery store moved into the first two stories of a gleaming new condo tower on the corner. Many of the storefronts between the Dollarama and Value Village are dark.

The neighbourhood has changed, too, Ted said. Fewer families can afford to live there as small apartment blocks and modest mid-century bungalows are gobbled up by new development, so he’s not giving as many first haircuts to tentative toddlers.

But Ted perseveres, propelled by stories exchanged, friendships made and the knowledge that, while everyone may not need the services of an accountant, everyone at some point needs their hair cut.

mbartel@tricitynews.com

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