Barber still cutting after 51 years

For most of his life, Bernhard Van Velze has not been without a pair of scissors and a comb.

Bernhard Van Velze has cut hair in Abbotsford for 51 years

Bernhard Van Velze has cut hair in Abbotsford for 51 years

For most of his life, Bernhard Van Velze has not been without a pair of scissors and a comb.

The tools have almost become like a third and fourth appendage for the barber, who started cutting hair in Holland when he was just 17.

Now after 51 years, Bernhard is retiring those trusty instruments, at least for five days out of the week.

With three daughters who have taken up their father’s vocation, Bernhard will still stand behind the barber’s chair at their individual businesses on Thursdays and Saturdays.

“It made me proud that the girls wanted to do the same thing,” Bernhard said. “I often thought it was a good job for ladies, even though back then it was just men.”

After finishing a short apprenticeship in Holland, Bernhard and his wife Carla moved to South Africa in 1964. There, Bernhard set up his first shop.

With the country still under apartheid, Bernhard was only allowed to serve Caucasian customers. The racial segregation is what finally caused the couple to leave the country 10 years later.

Unable to transfer money out of the country, the couple sacrificed financially for the well-being of their three daughters, the youngest of whom was only seven months old.

“For six months, we slept on mattresses on the floor. We had no money in our pocket,” Carla said.

“We worked hard, like a lot of people do.”

Bernhard took over an established barber shop in the Clearbrook area, where he met his first few clients.

Those men, some of whom began as customers in their childhood, have since brought in their own children over the years, and they followed Bernhard when he moved shop.

After 32 years, the couple was asked to vacate the building.

They found a spot just around the corner on South Fraser Way, where they stayed up until a year ago when Bernhard sold the building and continued his trade in the home of his daughter Nicolette.

Sitting in the basement level studio, Bernhard gets up when a small boy enters the door.

“He asked for you,” the mom said.

Hopping up into the chair, the boy takes off his glasses while Bernhard wets down his hair with a spray bottle.

They talk about their Christmas plans while the barber snips, the hair gathering on the floor.

Many times, youngsters squirm and scream during their first few haircuts.

“You have to be fast,” Bernhard said smiling.

His quick hands enable him to serve more than 20 clients a day at times.

He’s also taught a handful of barbers in the Abbotsford area.

“I think I’ve done my duty to society of bringing good barbers in,” he said, adding that there are few barber shops around nowadays.

The father was the teacher for all his children as well.

Like their father, they call themselves barbers, not hair stylists.

“The two are very different things,” Bernhard said.

Barbering carries a public misconception of being easier, but it is very precise with a lot of scissor work.

Bernhard is also one of the few barbers left in Abbotsford who do a razor shave.

“Rewarding is the right word (to describe my career), because everyone leaves feeling a little bit better.”