Razor sharp after 50 years

Barber Ray Martin marks golden anniversary of cutting hair Monday

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on November 2, 2012
Allan MacDonald, right, wasn’t even alive when Ray Martin started cutting hair. The owner/operator of Ray’s Place on Kent Street in Charlottetown celebrates 50 years in the business on Monday, Nov. 5.
Guardian photo

As far as Ray Martin is concerned, he has the dream job.

The 68-year-old Stratford resident, who owns and operates Ray’s Place, a barbershop on Kent Street in Charlottetown, will celebrate 50 years of cutting hair on Monday, Nov. 5.

“I haven’t come across the bridge from Stratford that I was wishing I didn’t have to go to work. Not one day. It’s been unbelievable,’’ Martin said in an interview with The Guardian.

The anniversary date is not an approximation. Martin started cutting hair on Nov. 5, 1962, and hasn’t looked back since.

His scissors have helped shaped hairstyles for premiers. Martin says he’s cut every premier’s hair, with the exception of Keith Milligan.

“He got his cut up west.’’

It’s also probably a safe assumption that former premier Catherine Callbeck had her hair done elsewhere, too.

“I remember putting Robert Ghiz on the baby board,’’ Martin says.

The current premier said he wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else.

“My father (premier Joe Ghiz) was a customer of his and you follow along with that. I became a customer and I’ve been at Ray’s Place ever since,’’ Ghiz said. “Even when I lived away and was at university I always tried to plan my haircuts when I came home to P.E.I.’’

Martin is also well known for his unofficial political polls that a few customers told The Guardian are eerily accurate.

There aren’t many old-fashioned barbers left in Charlottetown. When Martin started, there were 15 alone on ‘dizzy block’ (the area bordered by University Avenue and Grafton, Queen and Kent streets).

He laments how few barbers there are now.

“There is no training for them,’’ Martin surmises. “For years, there wasn’t a single (barber school) in the Atlantic provinces. It wasn’t chic to be a barber.’’

One has since opened in New Brunswick.

A native of Yarmouth, N.S., Martin’s career started quite accidentally.

“My grandfather had a barbershop in Yarmouth and I was up in Boston visiting my aunt when dad called. He said ‘Why don’t you take a barber course and come home and take over gramp’s shop’. I said ‘sure’.’’

Martin’s grandfather died before he could finish that barber course. His father insisted he stick with it but business dropped considerably so Martin got a job at a creamery.

“It was a horrible job. I put my name in at the unemployment office, figuring I’d get a job in Halifax. Nope, it was in Charlottetown. I had no relatives there; didn’t know a soul. So, I decided I’d go there for five months and try it.’’

Those five months turned into 50 years.

When asked why he’s still working at 68, Martin responds quickly, again with a smile.

“It’s got to be the human contact. It has to be. When I first got into the business, it was really difficult to drag ‘hello’ out of me. I was very, very shy. If this business doesn’t take you out of your shell, you shouldn’t be in it.’’

Martin is also involved in the annual Movember fundraiser, which raises money for prostate cancer research and men’s mental health issues. Martin gave Tom Stewart, a member of the Canadian Mental Health Association of P.E.I., his first shave since 1977 this week. The campaign raised $80,000 on P.E.I. last year and more than $40 million across Canada.

Some day, Martin will hang up his scissors but the business will stay in the family. His daughter, Rhonda MacKay, plans on taking over.

MacKay has been working in the chair next to dad for the past 19 years.

When asked for comment, MacKay would only say: “I don’t want to take the spotlight away from dad.’’

But the transition isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

When asked how long he plans on cutting hair, Martin responds, with conviction: “Until I can’t do it anymore. It’s as simple as that.’’

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart