A lifetime of memories

Daniel MacEachern
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Sudden illness forces Gus Galgay to close his barber shop after 44 years

Forty-four years of cutting hair has provided Gus Galgay with a lot of memories. He’s cut the hair of  thousands of people, from children to seniors to politicians to singers and soldiers.

But when Galgay’s memory started to slip last year, he knew something was wrong.

“In the shop I was getting a little bit forgetful and I didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

“I was really getting annoyed with myself, like everybody would in this situation.”

And then a regular customer — someone who’d seen Galgay’s three children grow up in and around his barber shop, which for the last 36 years has been in the basement of Galgay’s house on Hamilton Avenue — asked where his son Jonathan was working these days.

“I said I didn’t know. I had to call out to Frances, my wife,” said Galgay, chuckling.

That was the last day — Dec. 15 — that Gus’ Barber Shop was open. Galgay — who turned 62 Friday — went to the doctor the next day, and was diagnosed with an aggressive, rare form of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiform, for which he’s undergoing treatment, including emergency surgery Dec. 23.

A small sign in the window of the shop alerts customers that the shop is closed indefinitely, but the news of Galgay’s illness has been slow to get around, so the regulars still come, knocking on the door, looking for Galgay to trim their locks, just as he has for more than four decades.

Jonathan Galgay, Gus’s son — Gus and Frances also have two daughters, Danielle and Carla — remembers lines of cars parked up and down the street in the morning, retired men behind the steering wheels, waiting for the shop to open, for them a meeting place and a source of information.

“We used to get the news that was coming on the television at 6 o’clock here in the barber shop,” said Frances Galgay.

“Everybody came in with all the news, all day long.”

Galgay said he loved what he did, thanks to the steady stream of customers.

“They were good people, all of them,” said Galgay. “I never said to myself, ‘Oh, not him.’”

And fiercely loyal, too, willing to brave the harshest of weather for a haircut.

“The other day when we had the storm, we had — is he 91? or 92? — dropped by with a cane and everything, in that snowstorm, driving a car,” said Frances.

That same man, said Jonathan Galgay, happened to come by the shop the last day it was open with a Christmas gift for Gus — a picture of four generations of his family who had their hair cut at Gus’s Barber Shop.

“When you look back at stuff, you’re talking 35, 40, 40-odd years. That’s a lot of loyalty.” Gus Galgay

But it wasn’t just the oldtimers who Galgay will remember, but the first-timers as well — all the children who had their first haircuts in his shop — some terrified at first.

“Who wouldn’t be upset at first? But after a little while, b’y, they’d be lovely. Sweet,” said Galgay, who’d give children a lollipop and a certificate marking their first haircut.

It’s not just his sudden retirement and shop closure that Galgay regrets, but the knowledge that barber shops themselves are endangered.

“I’d say there’s no more than 10 or 12 at the most. And when they’re finished, like myself, they’re gone,” he said. “There’s nobody doing barbering, I don’t think. There’s men at it for years and years, the men at it are 55, 58 years, and their children never got involved.”

Galgay tried to get his son  to follow him into the business to no avail — he’s an analyst with the provincial Department of Justice.

He laments the disappearance of the old-fashioned nature of barber shops. Galgay didn’t take credit card or even debit cards — but he says he was never stiffed by a new customer caught without cash.

For longtime customers, Galgay made the occasional hospital visit for a trim, and there were even a couple of patrons — loyal to the very end — whose last wishes included a request for Galgay to cut their hair for the casket viewing.

Lieutenant-governors, musicians, doctors — for 44 years they came to Gus Galgay for a haircut, five days a week. He says that while there were many days over the years that he felt like closing the shop and enjoying the sunshine — but he kept on.

“When you look back at stuff, you’re talking 35, 40, 40-odd years. That’s a lot of loyalty,” he said. “That’s your bread and butter. If people don’t come to the door, you’re not getting paid.”

He refuses to let his illness bother him, adhering to a philosophy of taking every day as it comes.

And he has a message for the generation upon generation of the customers who visited his shop over the past four-plus decades.

“I want to thank them for coming in. Really, they were excellent, excellent people who came into the shop,” he said.



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Organizations: Department of Justice.He

Geographic location: Hamilton Avenue

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Recent comments

  • Peter & Shannon Power
    February 28, 2011 - 19:41

    Gus we wish you all the best . I will miss my regular visits to your shop not only to get a haircut but to talk about everything,your smile and gentle ways . Your a gentlemen gentlemen a true friend to everyone who knows you.Good luck and God speed. Peter

  • Patricia D'Angelo
    February 28, 2011 - 10:57

    A lifetime of memories for sure! A touching tribute... The Butler family from Sudbury sends a hug and a smile - remembering all the laughs and good times we've enjoyed with Frances and Gus and the Walsh family here in Sudbury and St. John's. And you've got the right attitude Gus - just take one day at a time.

  • Patricia D'Angelo
    February 25, 2011 - 16:54

    A big "hello" and sincere best wishes from the Butler family in Sudbury, Ontario. We all have wonderful memories of good times and loads of laughs with Frances and Gus and the Walsh family. Just want you to know that we're thinking about all of you and wish you well.

  • Jackie Norman
    February 22, 2011 - 18:38

    Gus is such a remarkable person. His wonderful personality goes above and beyond that of your local barber.Ten months ago Gus visited my dad at his home to give him a hair cut at which time my Dad said,"Gus I think this will be my last hair cut."Gus replied with "don't be so foolish, Bill, you'll be fine." His reassurance and humor went a long way in easing the stress my family was experiencing at that time. Sure enough Dad passed away a few weeks later. Our family will be forever grateful for the laughter you brought to our family that night with some of your wonderful stories. Mom, Dad, my sister and I laughed for hours later. This was the very last time we were able to set aside the thoughts of losing Dad, which we knew was inevitable.You are an inspiration to us all. Thank You Gus, Jackie Norman

  • The Walsh Family
    February 22, 2011 - 15:53

    Gus has been a barber to many of our family for many years since he was in training to be a barber. He was more than a barber though. Him and Frances, and the kids, became part of our extended family. There were many memories of first hair cuts for the children and grandchildren and when Dad was terminally ill, Gus visited him at home to cut his hair and shave him. Gus, Frances, his family and barber shop are forever etched in our hearts and souls for the wonderful people that they are. The closing of Gus's Barber Shop is a great loss of an iconic site in west end St. John's.

  • Ross Hammond
    February 22, 2011 - 11:32

    As a customer of Gus's Barber Shop for many years, it is with a heavy heart that I read this article. Gus Galgay is one of the nicest people I have met throughout my life thus far. A true gentleman and family man. At Gus's Barber Shop, you did NOT feel like just another customer but a friend also. I think I speak for all your customers Gus when I say "It was my pleasure to be your customer" Ross Hammond

  • Cindy
    February 22, 2011 - 09:51

    My son got his first haircut with Gus and has continually gone back with "poppy" to get his hair cut there...He always enjoyed going to see Gus (and enjoyed the lollipop at the end even more!). Get well, Gus. Good luck - it's been a pleasure.

    • Ross Hammond
      February 22, 2011 - 11:26

      As one of Gus's customers for many years, it is with a heavy heart that I read this article. Gus Galgay is one of the nicest people I have met throughout life thus far. At Gus's Barber Shop, you were not treated just as a customer but also a friend. I think I speak for all your customers Gus when I say "It was my pleasure to be your customer" Ross Hammond

    • Ross Hammond
      February 22, 2011 - 11:31

      As a customer of Gus's Barber Shop for many years, it is with a heavy heart that I read this article. Gus Galgay is one of the nicest people I have met throughout my life thus far. A true gentleman and family man. At Gus's Barber Shop, you did NOT feel like just another customer but a friend also. I think I speak for all your customers Gus when I say "It was my pleasure to be your customer" Ross Hammond

  • Gary Barfoot
    February 22, 2011 - 07:24

    I still remember the 1st time I visited Gus's shop some 30+years ago. I was visiting my Grandmother on Eric Street. I've seen a few changes over the years, with additional barber chairs, even a lady Barber for the ladies cuts . But one thing has remained constant over that period of time. Gus's dedication loyalty and always a smiling face to greet his patrons and friends. Get Well Soon. Gus. God Bless....

  • Joan Gill
    February 22, 2011 - 07:17

    Only met Gus and Frances last year @Melody Gardens ,Florida,but felt as if I had known them for years!! We had a wonderful time together.It saddens my heart to hear of Gus's illness.My thoughts and prayers are with Gus,Frances and their family.Hope to see you in Melody Gardens in mar. or apr.!!! Keep Your Chin up Gus,and Fight this dreaded thing!! Hugs J

  • John Coffen
    February 21, 2011 - 22:48

    With my father working down @ Carling O'Keefe Brewery and a Grand-mother living on Sudberry St. as well - Guss was the natural choice in a barber. Many fond memories of visits to see Guss. VOCM Radio playing softly in the back-ground and everyone waiting patiently for their turn in Guss's chair. Guss was always pleasant and a real gentleman.... Sad to see his barbershop go. What's all the more difficult to digest here is the circumstance surrounding the decision to close. Get well old friend. Our thoughts are of you, with a hope for a full and speedy recovery.

  • Terry & Richard
    February 21, 2011 - 22:01

    We first met Gus and Frances while they were vacationing in St.Petersburg , Florida and from the minute we were introduced it was like we had known each other for all our life. We were very sad to learn of Gus' ilness and we wish him all the best. God Bless. Love from Melody Gardens , Terry & Richard

  • Viki
    February 21, 2011 - 13:00

    Gus is a lovely gentleman and a great barber. He cut my father's hair for years and we'd stay around while he was doing it just for a chat. I'm glad he seems to be doing well and hope his prospects are good. He was an excellent choice for a story about how things in St. John's have changed.

  • viola squires
    February 21, 2011 - 11:33

    gus started cutting my three sons hair when they were very small. my son, errol, works at labatts. gus cut his hair for free when they were on strike. this will never be forgotten. lots of memories there gus. may god bless you and your family and make you well

  • JON
    February 21, 2011 - 10:37

    I dealt with Gus a couple years ago while the retaining wall outside his home was being reconstructed. As the city inspector on the job, I spoke with him several times and he is such a gentleman... very kind and soft spoken and pleasant. I wish you all the best Gus... stay strong and God bless you.

  • Bill
    February 21, 2011 - 10:20

    Gus's - The coffee, the excellent company kept, the great chats while waiting, the view from the chair, Gus's ability to kindly include you in the ongoing conversation as soon as you walked in. A fine man. A kind man. A family man. A good friend to all who know him. Good luck Gus and thanks for your service over the years. I, like so many others today have no idea where to get a hair cut other than through that friendly door, under the patio on that steep hill in old St. John's.

  • Sheila Corbett
    February 21, 2011 - 09:44

    Gus and Francis as the former wife of one of your nephews I fondly remember you and your family. It was always a pleasure being in your shop and home. May your treatments provide many more years for you to share your love and warmth with famly and friends.

  • Barry
    February 21, 2011 - 09:33

    I had my first hair cut by Gus 36 years ago, I remember mom taking me and my brothers down when we were kids. When he was finished he would always say your girlfriend is not going to know who you are now that your hair is cut, it used to make me some mad cause as a kid of 5 or 6 the last thing I wanted was anything to do with girls. It was always more then a hair cut, it was an adventure at his shop, he is so great with getting a few laughs out of people . Hang in there Gus I wish you nothing but the best.

  • Elery & Debbie Hudson
    February 21, 2011 - 09:29

    My husband, myself and my 3 boys had Guy cut our hair for years....myself and my boys eventually went elsewhere, but my husband kept going to Gus's, not only for a haircut buy just for a chat. Gus was one of the friendliest men I know. He cut my eldest son's hair while riding his son's tricycle because he was so afraid. But Gus ran behind him on the bike until he had his hair cut. Not may barbars would do that and we never forgot it. We still talk about it today. God Bless you Gus and we wish you all the best.

  • Robert
    February 21, 2011 - 08:06

    Gus Galgay - A very spritual family man. A kind gentleman who was a friend to all. Good luck and God speed.

      February 21, 2011 - 12:10

      We only knew Gus & Francie last September at Jonathan and Taracetta s'wedding. Taracetta is our lovely niece. We met Jonathan before really nice guy,lot of fun always, i guess coming from a nice family also.We had a very nice party together on the party bus and at the reception. Such lovely persons. Love to have knowing you before,wishing you ,Gus all the best ,we are thinking of you in our prayers.

    • mary
      February 21, 2011 - 13:57

      I remember all of the family at Gagays range on water street.Gus was a credit to them a fine man, who did a worthwhile job for years. he will be missed cutting hair. sad another way of life in st john's drying up.All the best Gus with your health may you have many more years of happiness to spend with your family.

    • Doreen Noseworthy and Family
      February 22, 2011 - 15:07

      Gus, it is the end of an era for sure, but your legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of everyone you've touched. Your pleasant smile, your wit and humour, your stories, your hospitality, your love of family and friends, your kind and caring ways, not to mention the best haircuts in town, these and so many other wonderful things are the legacy you and your career have given to so many. To everything there is a season and it's your season now, your time to look after yourself. I know that with your faith, and the love and support of family and friends, you will find the strength to fight the good fight. Good luck and may God speed.