WOLFVILLE, NS - For more than six decades, Donnie Lightfoot clipped people’s hair at his Wolfville barbershop.
Now, with the help of his friend and one-time customer Jim Prime, he has polished off a memoir called The Barber of Mudcreek.
In his primary shop, which eventually became known as The Razor’s Edge at the Acadia Cinema, Lightfoot’s passion for meeting people and cutting hair made him an integral part of the community in a bygone era, when men often chose to wait two hours for a cut in order to catch up on the local gossip.
It will be hard for female readers, other than Lightfoot’s barber daughter Sarah, to recognize the male enclave of The Razor’s Edge or, indeed, any strictly male barbershop. In this memoir, women get a peek inside.
These memoirs include some great tales like the fiddle playing customer whose landlady didn’t like the sound of his instrument, so he kept it at the barbershop.
“Sometimes we’d see him walking by on the opposite side of the street and call him in for a recital," Lightfoot recalls.
After enduring the slow business of the long-haired 60s, today Lightfoot thinks he retired too soon “because the short on the sides style has returned.”
Venturing back through the years, he reminisces on his humble beginnings, his dreams and adventures. Lightfoot’s mother, Evelyn, was a veritable ball of energy almost until her death at age 108. Her son inherited her get-up-and-go qualities. An early entrepreneurial streak had him raising chickens and taking sports team photos.
Donnie quit high school two weeks into his Grade 9 year in a bout of stubbornness. Luckily he wormed his way into a Halifax vocational training school for a six-month barbering course.
By 1951, he was providing military haircuts at Camp Aldershot using one of the three chairs in the barbershop. Cuts were 50 cents, but all of his adventures led back to Wolfville.
Retired Acadia prof Maurice Tugwell recalled, “as many will fondly note, the time in Donnie’s chair was enriched by a seeming constant stream of folk poking their heads in the door to voice a welcome, present a tidbit of local ‘breaking news,’ or deliver the goods.”
A former student-athlete and head of Acadia’s alumni organization, Steve Pound remembers Lightfoot's shop “was an institution in our town. Al Whittle, Dr. Cherry and Donnie Lightfoot were three people you just loved to see. As young adults, they always made you feel welcomed.”
Dr. Jim Perkin, who ran Acadia from 1981-1993, also remembers Lightfoot's shop fondly.
“One of the unique things about Acadia University in all of Canada is its relation to the community,” said Perkin. “As president, I had to know what was going on in town. Donnie was one of those valued sources… I worked hard to keep a good relationship with the town and he was a big help.”
Perkin said the barbershop was one of the most natural and democratic places in town. And Lightfoot, he said, "was an inclusive chap.”
His stories paint a portrait of a small town growing in a rapidly changing world. Lightfoot valued others, no matter how many of the world’s goods they owned. The bench outside the post office is a testament to window washer Avery Rogers and Lightfoot’s caring.
His family is a huge part of Donnie’s world. He married the love of his life, Betty, and together they raised three daughters and a son. Their memories are inscribed, along with his sister Sherry’s. Working on this memoir, he says, helped him cope with the grief of losing his dear wife.
Generously sprinkled with his unique insights, The Barber of Mud Creek tells the story of a life spent in the service of others, a colourful journey as rich and vibrant as the history of Wolfville itself.
Lightfoot will be holding a book launch on Nov. 4 at the Box of Delights Bookstore in Wolfville. It will run from 3–4:30 p.m.