Project 1 – Philip H. Bolger

From the Renfrew Mercury
29 May 1925

Mr. Philip H. Bolger was born in the Shamrock section of Admaston Township and grew up there. He bought a farm in that locality which he later sold and removed to a farm on the South McNaughton line, four miles from Renfrew. Before disposing of that property and taking up his abode in Renfrew, he always made his home in the Township of Admaston with the exception of a few years spent in the service of the McFadden Lumber Co. in Michigan. That he ranked high among the citizenship of Admaston is proven by the fact that for five years he held the office of Reeve, the highest office in the gift of the people of that municipality. First he was elected by acclamation and for four years afterward he was returned unopposed. Thus for five years he went to Pembroke as a member of the County Council. For twelve years previous to that he had been a rank and file member of Admaston Council. The last two years Mr. Bolger was in the township he served as a school trustee for No 2 section.

When the U.F.O. was launched, Mr. Bolger entered heartily into its activities, convinced that it had a useful purpose to serve. He was county director for two years; for two years he held the presidency of the political end of it. There were many who desired him to run as a U.F.O. candidate for the Legislature, others regarded him as a good candidate in the Progressive interest for the Commons. He did not, however, look for such honors. In his work as a councilor, reeve and school trustee, Mr. Bolger developed into a capable public speaker, in which line he is all the more effective because having a voice which can be heard in the farthest comers of any hall.

Mr. Bolger is a man who has had no particular hobby except that when on the farm he liked good cattle and good horses, and aimed to have the farm well kept. Mr. Bolger is not of Scottish descent, but few Scotchmen like an argument better, and that man is no mean logician who can hold its own against Mr. Bolger in debate. Spending his younger days in the lumber woods he left the woods expecting to see them no more, but today finds him in the woods again but this time in an executive capacity. When he first entered the pines as agent for the late Alexander Barnet at Basin Depot and much square timber was made and he became himself a hewer. Today very little square of waney timber is taken out and hewing is pretty much a lost art.

In the matter of building up a bigger and better Renfrew, Mr. Bolger recognizes that no small part of this work can be done by the people living in the country roundabout the town. Familiar with both country and town people, he believes that there is no bad feeling between the two except on the part of some who may have a personal grievance. In his view the best thing to make the township people better customers here is an abundant crop. With two or three good crops there would be more money in the hands of the farmers and they would buy different things which they now do without. Situated as Renfrew is, Mr. Bolger regards a weekly half-
holiday for stores and groceries as a mistake. He does not think early closing has the same effect. It would help Renfrew, he feels, if there were buyers for everything which the farmers bring to town. It is hurtful to the town’s interests when farmers offering articles for sale in business places are met with this statement, we are overstocked.

Phil Bolger – 50 years in business (1977)
Meet the dean of barbers – Phil Bolger of Renfrew, the friendliest fellow you’ll ever know.

Barbers have traditionally heard all the talk of the town, perhaps even starting it at times. Hearing it for all of 57 years as a barber, Phil Bolger is marking a unique 50 years this week as a businessman.

That’s right – his own barbershop business will be half a century old this Saturday, October 1 and a lot has happened since his youth at Hyndford and Killaloe.

There’s no boasting with Phil. I had to go back a second and third time to wring out the story I wanted. The first time we spoke there was little sign he had been so active in the community – except that I should have expected it from the twinkle in the eye which leaves a sneaking impression there’s a funny little tale coming along shortly and after all, funny little tales keep the town’s world turning.

Take the tale about the biggest hoax in Renfrew – at least for one day about 20 years ago. It’s probably been around a few times, after all, when you know everybody on the street.

He told me this during an interview: Renfrew lawyer Joe Cooke got an idea to save the day at the upcoming Rotary dinner, Phil said. Cooke was in charge of activities and needed a speaker. He talked a local bank manager into the task then got Bolger to make him up. Bolger, proven dramatist and makeup artist turned the fellow into a distinguished looking, German “professor” complete with whiskers. Only Cooke and Bolger knew his real identity when the “professor” drove along in a blistering half-hour speech – in broken English with Saxon accent – to the Rotary Club. It was a ladies’ night. The speaker gave the Rotarians “hell” for living in small town, Phil said. “Oh, it was a real scream. At the end he started pulling his whiskers out in pieces…hih,hih,hih…It’s got to be the biggest hoax.”

Of course, its the way a story is told – Phil Bolger‘s got the knack and this is why he found a lot of community work as master of ceremonies, toast master and related duties.

He has also been actor, director, adjudicator, hospital board member and chairman, town councilor and deputy-reeve in addition to various other memberships in service organizations.

When he started barbering in 1920 there were a lot of ‘square backs’, a name for a kind of haircut popular then. “Just like today, you know. And lots of beards too – just like today.

“There was lots of shaving way back then, rather than now. Until the advent of the electric razor and the modern safety razor there was a lot of shaving in the barbershop.” he recalls.

He learned the trade from T.D. Hardy, owner of a shop at the site of the old Canadian Tire Store, in the old Fraser Block. He was going on 17 years when he began and now he is 74. Phil admits to slowing down, declining as much outside work. But he can’t quit. “If I quit l wouldn’t know what to do with

Working as a journeyman barber meant cutting hair and shaving faces for nothing for the first six months. Instead he paid out a $50 fee. After this period the earnings began at $5 per week until, after a three years as a barber, he was making $20 a week.

That’s quite a long way from getting rich quick. It was 1927 when he moved to a stone building where the Scotiabank now is to begin his own business. lt use to be Dick Doyle‘s barbershop. The depression came in 1929, business got very bad and things were poor until about 1937. But not so poor that he couldn’t marry Elsie Lemenchick of Renfrew in 1934 – the same year he moved to his present shop, a heritage building (The deed is dated 1846).

But barbering must still include much of the surrounding flavour as it did then. Kids still come to him, and they flop onto the board across the arms of the adult-sized chair. “You need a lot of patience with children but most of the kids here are pretty good.”

Also part of the barbershop, “you get all the news of the town and it’s discussed in the shop. You hear many arguments, especially around election time.”

Interest in politics
His interest in politics includes experience, although he is okay for much debate. He was deputy-reeve for two years during his 1965-71 stint on town and for six of the 12 years on the Victoria Hospital board of directors, he was chairman.

“One would have to be a very wise person to even figure out what the future was in store for us in view of the way things are today. So I couldn’t attempt to. No one else can either. Even the leaders of our country can’t figure it out”.

Take tor example Phil’s being named “Citizen of the Year” in 1964 by the Eastern Ontario Development Association. For this he received a personal note from Prime Minister Lester Pearson. Perhaps it was in
recognition of work on the hospital board when the new wing was built – he’s too shy to come out and say exactly why. “I’m always afraid people will think I’m vain and looking for publicity,” he says.

A lot of time was spent supporting cultural events such as drama festivals.

His work in the drama circles is endless to list – he dragged out a box of clippings from various newspapers of the day showing the numerous events involving entertainment. Such as in 1941 when he won a trophy for the best entry in a drama festival held by the Knights of Columbus for Pembroke,
Arnprior, Eganville and Renfrew.

Or the plays he has directed and participated in. Phil says there have been up to 50 persons in some performances. Two St. Patrick’s Day productions in different years, “Cupboard Love” and “Son of My Heart” are examples of his directing. Or, the three-act Irish play “Loggerheads” sponsored by the CWL at Renfrew Separate School. He scored successes with them all.

One clipping shows Phil seated at the “Coffee Club” bar in the Haramis Restaurant in May 1960 while another is a head-and-shoulder’s picture of the adjudicator for the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association drama festival in Pembroke. He presided over the nurses’ graduation for six years and worked on charity balls.

As he deems: “I was through the whole bit. l can hardly believe it myself, all the things I was into.”

Perhaps a highlight at his life is a trip with Elsie to the land of his forefathers – Ireland – in May and June of 1971. He’d like to go back sometime.

At home in the barbershop, what has been a highlight? Everyday carries different experiences. But perhaps two mention-able happenings include a visit to the shop by former world heavy-weight boxing champion Gene Tunney, who dropped in for a shave. Or, from another former champion, Jack Sharkie. who visited while on way up-country on a fishing trip. They just dropped in – sometime in the early thirties. There`s all kinds, but I bet not too many barbers have had that happen to them.

Another day I returned to his shop to take a photograph. He was talking to a customer, not a lawyer, in the shop about a land transaction which had taken place.

The transaction, l gathered, involved the church and some landowners who owned strips of land the church wanted. One landowner wanted $1,500 for a small strip, “nothing” Phil terms, while the other owner, when approached by the church, was very humble, although poor, didn’t ask anything.

“He was a very humble fellow,” the barber declares, with the customer nodding. “He said; ‘This is yours and we don’t want anything for it.” That’s right. It’s true about that strip,” Phil assures.

The wisdom, if not always correct, is true and appropriate for the barbershop and it is in continuing evolution. The above philosophy of the strip of land moves on, with another customer in the chair and the last remaining for a while to talk. The discussion considers property value here and hereafter. “You can’t take it with you. “It starts off, with Phil at the helm, “What’s the sense in hanging on to it?” He poses the question in respect of perhaps something worthwhile being done with personal property while still here in the world. Getting religious perhaps, but it still comes across in great expectation for the inevitable, quipping, laugh-line. “Well, I have a son-in-law,” Phll starts in all honesty. “I wouldn’t want it for that fellow to go to Florida year after year and lay in the sun and say; ‘That fellow Bolger wasn’t a bad fellow after …”. Everyone in the shop is laughing. “But I wouldn’t mind a couple of times… “. A wise man once told him: “One should never wait for a dead man’s shoes.”

Each round brings a different theme, note, perspective, chance for the opportunity to share in the daily, common experiences. Phil Bolger just relates them well enough to be registered as believable and

Story by Richard Blanchard