Banner photo shows interior of W. E. Saults’s barber shop, from Hespeler, Canada: A souvernir of the Factory Town, 1901.
Even in its rough and wild youth, as it was being transformed from “muddy little York” into just-as-muddy Toronto, the city had its refinements. In the 1830s, when the population was well under 10,000 souls, there were several boot and shoe makers, hatters and milliners, soap manufacturers and watchmakers and a whole bumper crop of tailors. In short, there were enough people concerned with your appearance that you could almost imagine you were a dandy on a London street rather than a pioneer of a colonial outpost. Of course, you could be as well-turned out as the next city forefather, but it was all for naught if your sideburns were getting out of hand and you needed a haircut. Enter Toronto’s remarkable band of barbers …
There were just seven officially listed in the city’s first record: Jarrad Banks and William Hickman were on Front St, W. R. Edwoods on Market Square, Charles Smith (who also cleaned clothes) was on Church, M. Kelley on Yonge, and George Wilkinson and Newton Cary on King St. Of these seven, at least four were African Americans who had most likely come to the city to flee slavery in the U.S. As the years went on, and the situation across the border became more dangerous with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the number of African American barbers would triple. Included in their number was a man with the marvellous name of Junius Slaughter. Slaughter’s barber shop was on Front St. and he was remembered by W. H. Pearson as being “about four feet in height and quite a notable character.” There was also Thomas F. Cary who married the great activist/journalist Mary Ann Shadd. He was one of five Carys who each had their own barber shop in the 1850s – Newton, George, Isaac N. and John J. being the others. I’d imagine they were all somehow related, Toronto just wasn’t that big.
While African Americans would continue to operate the majority of Toronto barber shops throughout the 1850s and early 1860s, a new era of hair care was beginning. Barbers now began to advertise their services and new terms were being used. Where before a barber was a barber was a barber, now there were a slew of “hair dressers” and “hair cutters.” There was also this guy:
Others were apparently so tonsorial-ly talented that they were Professors of the trade:
Perhaps about now you’re wondering what delightful hair saloons were available if you were a lady of the day. Well, it was a short list, sister. For several years there was only the Misses Bates’ at 31 King West.
But believe it or not, this was kinda racy stuff. “Respectable” women of the era did not go “out” to get their hair done. What hair dressing they did was commonly done at home – by a maid if you were flush, or yourself if you weren’t. So really the only aspect of hair dressing aimed at women was the purchasing of products to be used in their own creations. Because having lots of hair was all the rage, most of these had to do with supplementing your own. And man, did they use everything imaginable.
Despite what that horrid illustration would have you believe, the “Medusa mop” was not a real fad. No, the popular style of the day was the chignon. Now I’m going to get personal here for a moment and tell you that when I wish to wear my hair in one, I just pull it back and pin it. But apparently there used to be a lot more to it than that because there existed such things as the Toronto Chignon Factory and the Dominion Chignon Manufacturing Co. I’m sure a lot of intricate hair wizardry was done within these companies, but all I can picture is a room of men forming balls of hair at long tables.
And so the hair industry in Toronto continued through the 1860s and 1870s, with barbers and hair dressers and hair manufacturers drifting into business and out of it, with no clear centre or star to elevate and brand it as a major concern. But that all changed with the 1880 arrival of a German couple named Dorenwend.
When they first arrived, Hildebert Dorenwend opened a barber shop on Richmond, while Anna set up her own shop and “hair works” on King E. Within a year though they decided to join forces at 105 Yonge St. and re-branded themselves as the Paris Hair Works. Their empire had begun.
The Dorenwends did it all. They barbered, they shaved, dressed, rinsed, dyed, made chignons, wigs and toupees, cured dandruff and removed the kind of hair you didn’t want. And to assure you that their methods were indeed the best and most scientific, Hildebert gave himself a professorship, guaranteed to remove any doubt. But if you didn’t care a jot about the methods and instead wanted reassurance that you were getting the most fashionable, up-to-the minute styling – well, it was the Paris Hair Works. What more could a body want?
There’s no record of her death that I can find, but it appears that Anna Dorenwend likely died sometime in 1885-6. There’s actually no record even that Anna and Hildebert were married (they could’ve been brother and sister), but I imagine they were because it was with her disappearance from the city’s records that Hildebert married a girl named Bella Robinson who worked in the shop as a clerk. And also boarded in his residence, I might add.
In any case, the Paris Hair Works had grown so much by 1888 that Hildebert took on the neighbouring space at 103 Yonge. His staff blossomed to include a perfumer, a porter and a foreman in addition to a number of barbers and hairdressers. Also on his staff, and boarding at his home, was a mysterious relation named Christian H. Dorenwend. He appears to have been roughly the same age as Hildebert and so might have been a brother or cousin. He started in the shop as a clerk and soon became an assistant, then book keeper and finally manager. He was obviously being groomed to take on a large part of the Dorenwend business, but Christian’s heart was not in hair – he wanted to invent things.
In 1891, Christian Dorenwend left the hair works and began his own business selling an invention of his own. Hildebert must’ve been pretty supportive of the venture because he let him use the 103 Yonge storefront for the company. It was now the Dorenwend Electric Belt and Attachment Co.
Let’s take a look at the contraption:
If you can believe it, you were supposed to put that thing around you and zap your organs into good health. Hard to imagine that anyone looked at that and thought “Oh boy, yes please – electrify my bowels.” … Actually, when I think about it, people are still selling dubious things like this. When I was a kid, my mother had one of those Dr. Ho’s Muscle Therapy things that was supposed to soothe sore muscles with jolts of electricity (I think). I don’t remember it being particularly effective, but then my sister and I only used it to try to spasm the crap out of each other.
But I digress…
For a couple of years, Christian and Hildebert enjoyed plying their respective trades as neighbours. But then in 1893, Christian moved off of Yonge and set up shop at 227 Spadina. Yonge being a much better known shopping district, this move appears to have signalled a step down for Christian. With 103 vacated, Hildebert once again took up the space.
Hildebert’s business continued to grow and with it his staff. In fact, he had so many young ladies working for him at the turn of the century that you can get a pretty good read of popular girls’ names of the era. There was an Effie, Berna, Louise, Emma, Fanny, Iola, Edith, Bessie, Flora, Mamie, Ida, Alma, Olive, Jean, Mary, Maud, Helen, Nellie, Bella, Vida, Gertie, Grace and three Lilys. Oh, and my absolute favourite, a Miss Birdie Beauchamp.
Sadly, business over on Spadina was not as good for Christian Dorenwend. Within a year of taking the space there, he was on the move again. And he would keep on moving, almost once a year. His business seems to have gotten smaller and smaller and soon even his living circumstances seemed pinched, as he was listed as a boarder at 773 Yonge. The final listing for his once up-and-coming Dorenwend Electric Belt and Truss Company was a small office at 389 1/2 Yonge – one of many businesses in a building that also housed the Idler Bicycle Club, Royal School of Dance, the Shaw Business College and the offices of two dentists named Ziegler and Zinkan. In 1909, he was gone – either dead or in pursuit of greener pastures – and left no further mark on the city.
As Christian Dorenwend’s star fell, Hildebert’s rose. The Paris Hair Works, now known as the Dorenwend Company of Toronto, had opened a successful branch in Ottawa. Hildebert and his family had moved out of the rooms above the shop and were now living in a grand home on Jarvis St. and also owned an apartment house on George. Most telling of their standing in the city, they were listed in the Toronto Society Blue Book. It was all a remarkable success for a barber – a trade that had previously put food in bellies and clothes on backs, but had never brought fame and fortune before.
But of course, every man must meet his end. Hildebert Dorenwend died in 1920 and shortly afterwards his wife and children moved to California. They buried him at Forest Lawn cemetery with a simple marker that shares the briefest of details. It tells you only that he was born in Germany in 1847 and died in Toronto. He is the only Dorenwend you will find there. Where Anna of the early Paris Hair Works is, or Christian of the Electric Belt and Truss, I can’t tell you. But I can tell you that the Dorenwend Company was soon sold and folded into another company. For having loomed so large, it was forgotten quite quickly and today the name Dorenwend is as foreign as the idea of wearing a camel hair wig.