Dave Waugh looks tired as he sits back in his old leather and steel barber chair, resting his right shoulder that was recently dislocated while working on a pipeline.
Such an injury was never really a concern for Waugh during the 16 years he stood behind the chair as the operator of Sicamous’ sole barbershop, Dave’s Barber Styling. But with bills piling up, and his son having grown up and moved away, Waugh had to abandon the barbershop for the promise of better paying work in Rocky Mountain House, Alta.
“It never was so bad before because in the winter times I was coaching hockey, my son’s hockey team, so I needed the weekends off for that and I could close at four o’clock in the afternoon to get the rink on time, but it’s never been good in the winter, fall or spring,” Waugh laments. “In the late spring, early summer, to the end of August, it’s decent. And then after that… by this time, in November, I mean, just look out there. I’ve been around the shop here for about an hour now, just puttering back and forth, and there’s just not much going on here at all.”
Regarding his injury, Waugh laughs when he says that’s what happens when you’re a 51-year-old man trying to keep up in a 20-year-old’s job. The work, he says, is good, but hard, noting the days are long – about 14 hours – and the breaks are few. But the paycheques are good.
“It’s a catch-22,” says Waugh. “When you’re here, you have a more sedentary lifestyle. You go home, you’re in your own house with your animals there, but you’re worrying about the bills and you’re always broke. You go away to work, you’ve got money in your pocket but you don’t have time to do anything.”
Earlier in the year, Waugh pursued the notion of working up north, but wound up sticking it out at the barbershop for another summer. When fall came, and business slowed down as it usually does, an opportunity presented itself. But Waugh says it still wasn’t easy to close his doors and move on.
“You know, I still love it here. I love the people here,” he says. “My customers and my friends are all here. It’s close to my heart. But I have to work out of town to make ends meet now. I was robbing Peter to pay Paul for too many years now, and it was coming to a point where it was all going to implode.”
Waugh knows his story isn’t unique in Sicamous, particularly with the steady decline of primary industry in the area. In fact, Eagle Valley Community Support Society president Pam Beech says that in poor economic times, such as what the community is now experiencing, it is very common for a parent to take up full-time work away from home.
“We do have a lot of husbands having to work away,” says Beech, adding the number of families that are separated in that way has grown even more in the past two years. “It is a difficult thing for families to be separated. It leads to a very high demand, a high level of emotional distress within families. It’s not good for the emotional health, the mental health of the community.”
Beech says the support society also frequently sees families dealing with the crisis of deciding if a parent should take up work elsewhere, even though they want to keep the family unit together. She says those that can afford to relocate together will, but not all have that option.
One positive for Waugh is that his current job is only three hours away from his son. His home, though, is still in Sicamous. And the barbershop? Waugh says he’s going to keep it as is for now, and when there’s a two- or three-month break in the spring, he may be back behind the chair for a short while, cutting hair and taking it easy for a bit.