BC’s Union Barbershop
It Was No Holiday! BC’s only union barber reflects on the COVID shutdown of 2020
Photos by Joshua Berson
Written by Donna Sacuta
Photographer Joshua Berson caught up with Guy Quesnel at Elk’s Barbershop, 771 6th Street in New Westminster to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected him as part of our COVID Chronicles Project.
In March 2020 all personal service establishments in British Columbia were closed by order of the Provincial Health Officer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Guy Quesnel, who owns Elk’s Barbershop “assumed it would only last a couple of weeks. Maybe a month.” He thought it would be a bit like a vacation. “It was no holiday!” Quesnel insists. The shop ended up being shut for ten weeks.
Uncertainty was one of the hardest parts of those early weeks. Quesnel admits he “was going stir-crazy.” His landlord had his back, his wife’s good public sector pension made sure they were comfortable and the “Trudeau money” (CERB) helped. He considered taking work at the local Safeway to fill his days, but decided against it.
Guy Quesnel is a third-generation member of the trade. Quesnel’s grandfather, father and uncle were all barbers. He took over the business in 1995 where memorabilia of the Vancouver Canucks and the New Westminster Salmonbellies adorns the walls.
The Journeymen Barbers International Union Local 120 was established in Vancouver in 1902. In its heyday there were 1,600 members in Vancouver and 1,100 in Victoria. The United Food and Commercial Workers are the successor union.
Guy Quesnel has been a member of UFCW Local 1518 for 30 years. Elk’s Barbershop is now BC’s only unionized barbershop.
“I take the good with the bad,” says Quesnel as he mulls over the past months. “Business is not back to where I’d like it,” but he remains optimistic. “I’m at about 75-80% of where I was.”
All images copyright Joshua Berson and BC Labour Heritage Centre.