End of an era?

With F.H. Huffman School likely to close, in favour of consolidating its students in a new school at the Robert Moore site on Second Street East, the last of the public board’s small “neighbourhood” schools will be gone.
The slow process actually began in the early 1980s with the closure of the McIrvine School in the west end. But it definitely accelerated over the past few years, with Alberton, Alexander MacKenzie, and Sixth Street School all being mothballed in one fell swoop.
Now F.H. Huffman seems destined to meet that same fate, leaving the town with just four elementary schools—J.W. Walker and Robert Moore in the public board, and St. Francis and St. Michael’s for the Catholic board.
Declining enrolment certainly is a factor. Huffman has a capacity for 132 students, but only 88 currently are enrolled. And just 54 are projected to be there by the 2011-12 school year.
At the same time, however, these closures were all but inevitable when the board, facing budget constraints, basically allowed the schools to fall into disrepair—to the point where they were deemed “prohibitive to repair” by the province.
So in effect, the groundswell in favour of keeping Huffman open has come too late. It should have begun years ago when less and less money was going towards maintenance.
The writing was on the wall then; parents just didn’t see it.
The trade-off, of course, is the promise of a brand spanking new school to replace aging Huffman and Robert Moore, which does have its appeal, though some—looking at the new J.W. Walker School—fear smaller classrooms and a smaller gymnasium will be the end result.
The real irony, of course, is what happens if the population of Fort Frances rebounds again in the coming years, as our civic leaders are trying to do. Faced with the prospect of overcrowded classrooms and more portables, no doubt we’ll wish we had kept at least some of our small “neighbourhood” schools open.

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End of an era

FORT FRANCES—After work last Thursday, Lawrence Gushulak closed up his barber shop on Scott Street just as he’d done on thousands of other afternoons.
But when he locked the door that day to “Lawrence’s Barber Shop,” he also marked the end of an era—hanging up his barber scissors in favour of retirement after 45 years in the business of cutting hair.
“I am the last [barber] in the Rainy River District,” Gushulak noted during a brief chat earlier last week amid a flow of customers who were coming in for their last trim in the barber’s chair facing the window to the busy downtown street.
When he began his career in 1962, there were 12 such barbers in Fort Frances and eight-10 more spread out across the district, including two each in Emo and in Rainy River, and four in Atikokan.
As a matter of interest and comparison, there were some 400 barbers in the city of Winnipeg in the early 1960s. Today, there are less than 40.
Fresh out of barber school, Gushulak’s hair-cutting career began on Sept. 6, 1962 when he took up an apprenticeship of sorts with Ed Shepanski, an established barber with a shop located where the Fort Duty Free building now stands.
Shepanski, now retired, still lives in Fort Frances.
Shortly thereafter, Gushulak moved to his present location at 271 Scott St., where a barber named Ernie Pertula had a two-man shop and also ran the Singer sewing machine agency.
Gushulak cut hair and fixed and sold sewing machines, and between the two was able to make a living. He took over the business from Patulla in 1965.
“I’m not leaving because business is poor; I’m leaving because it’s time,” Gushulak said last week.
So, in taking retirement, countless men who have relied on Lawrence’s Barber Shop by the week, every three months, or even for that once-a-year “snip and clip,” they aren’t looking forward to going elsewhere.
Not only has Lawrence’s Barber Shop been “old hat” for a hair and beard trim. The welcoming atmosphere honed by Gushulak all these years is a drawing card for well-aged camaraderie and conversation among generations of men.
“There are [several] generations of [male] families that I can think of, where a great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and son were [customers],” he noted.
“I’ve seen people through the best of times, marriages, children, funerals–all ends of the spectrum.
“A lot of guys would say this was one of the last male bastions where they could come in and sit down and [really talk],” Gushulak continued.
“In fact, I’ve had customers [joke] about having my house burned down if I don’t set up some [kind of barber shop] in my garage,” he added, with the comment raising chuckles from customers waiting for their turn in the chair.
“Guys have said that even if it’s 40 below outside and they have to come and sit in the garage, they’ll do that [just to get their hair cut].”
Yet with some four-and-a-half decades under the belt of the barber, and that of a great many of his customers, at least one thing has evolved with time.
“The topic of conversation has really changed,” Gushulak reasoned. “Thirty years ago our eyes would be glued to the sidewalk out the [shop window] at all the pretty girls walking by and we’d be talking about women and whatnot.
“Today it’s your hip replacement, heart bypass, and our cholesterol—that’s the good stuff that we talk about now,” he smiled.
“I am going to miss the people and the ‘BS-ing.’”
Larry Cousineau of Fort Frances is among the many of Gushulak’s customers who will miss his visits to the barber.
As well he should.
Now in his early 60s, the Fort Frances native has never had his hair cut anywhere else ever in his life but in the barber shop at 271 Scott St., with 44 years of those hair cuts given to him by Lawrence Gushulak.
“A year ago, when I started talking about retiring, Larry asked me if he could be the last one to get a haircut,” Gushulak noted, who granted the request last Thursday at 1:45 p.m. when he drew his scissors to hand for the last time at his barber shop.
The “final cut” was witnessed by a shop full of retirement well-wishers, who laughed up a storm when Gushulak suggested he was going to take Cousineau’s hairstyle to a whole new level for the first and last time.
“Now this is the last haircut and you are not coming back, so I think I’m going to do what I want this time,” said Gushulak, matter-of-factly.
“I always thought you’d look good in a brush cut,” Gushulak added, scissors in motion.
“Good Lord,” Cousineau replied with smile and a wince.
“No, I couldn’t do that now—that would be an awful way to end a career wouldn’t it? Being chased down the street by an angry [last] customer,” Gushulak replied.
The final snip at Lawrence’s Barber Shop was greeted with a roomful of applause. Refreshments then were served as family, friends, longtime customers, and fellow Scott Street merchants dropped by to wish Gushulak a happy retirement.
Down the road, Gushulak plans to travel with his wife, Ilona, bird hunt, fish, and garden, and at some time in the future perhaps catch up on camaraderie with an occasional haircut given out in the garage—barbershop style.
(Fort Frances Times)

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