George Blanis, better known locally as George the barber, died this weekend after a short battle with cancer.
He was 81.
His funeral is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Greek Orthodox Church, (511 Tabour Blvd. S.
In 2016, Citizen contributor Kathy Nadalin featured Blanis. That story appears below.
George Kostas Blanis, aka George the Barber, was born in 1937 in Diava Kalabaka, Greece. It was shortly after the war when a friend of his left for Canada to work as a barber and with the hope of finding a better life. Time went by and he wrote George a letter inviting him to come to Canada and work with him in his barber shop.
George had already been entertaining the idea of immigrating to Australia, the United States or Canada; the letter from his friend helped him to make up his mind and he chose to go to Canada.
George had a friend in Greece who had a sister named Eleni (Helen) Falas who was living in Prince George; in fact it turns out that George and Helen grew up in the same village. George promised to look her up when he arrived in Prince George.
Helen had arrived in Prince George in 1961 and George got here in 1962. A prearranged meeting had been set up for them to meet in the lobby at the Simon Fraser Hotel mainly because Helen worked in the kitchen at the hotel. They spoke their own language to one another and they talked about their dreams and goals. George said he wanted to work a few years as a barber, get married and have children and then eventually go back to Greece. Helen's goals were basically the same and to make a long story short they were married in 1962. They had hard times and good times, they worked hard together and they started their family.
They had two children - a daughter Lisa (Fred) Sloyer who lives in Abbotsford and a son Dean (Irina) who lives in Prince George - and they have three grandchildren. Sadly, Helen passed away in 2010. George said, "We had two beautiful kids. They both graduated from high school here in Prince George and then furthered their education at the coast. Helen and I always worked for the kids. We knew that they were the future - we knew that we had great kids."
George reflected back and said, "There were about 12,500 people in Prince George when I arrived here. I immediately found work with the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. The work was physically hard and I didn't speak English so it was really tough at first. I worked for the railway for two years; I thought this would be a great place to learn the English language but instead I learned to speak Italian. In fact I learned more Italian than English and eventually no one believed I was Greek; they even told me I looked like an Italian."
George worked his job at the railway for two years and after hours he worked on the side as a barber. Finally in 1964 he obtained his barber's license and got a job as a barber. He opened his own shop - George's Barber Shop - in 1965 at the Simon Fraser Hotel. That was 51 years ago and today George is known all over the city for his work and his great personality. He is the oldest and the only European barber in the city and he works in the oldest shop in Prince George, a fact that he is very proud of.
He has worked steady for the past 52 years with forced time off when the hotel was sold a year ago to Days Inn Prince George Hotel. He decided to take six months off before he found a new location for his business. As luck would have it everything worked out over time and he is right back at the Days Inn Hotel and at the same location. He intends to keep on doing what he does best and has no plans to retire. George said, "I was born to be a barber."
When George told his parents that he was leaving Greece and going to Canada his father gave him $100 in U.S. cash and said, "Son, I feel bad that I can not give you more. Take the $100 and I hope you can turn it into $100,000."
With that and a great work ethic pass on to him by both his father and his grandfather George left for Canada.
It wasn't long and George wrote home to say that he was married, he had opened his own business and that he and his wife had bought a house. His father wrote back and asked, "How the hell can you have all of this?"
George explained, "They were tough years, I worked in my barber shop five days a week and on the weekends I worked jobs bartending and doing janitorial work on the side. I drove all the way out to Baldy Hughes and cut hair one day a week. In my spare time we worked on the house. My wife was always scared that we wouldn't be able to make our monthly mortgage payment of $100 but we never missed a payment; in fact we even paid early. We worked like this for 12 years; there was no such thing as a vacation - just a lot of hard work."
After awhile his mother, father and his younger sister came to Canada thanks to the help of a client who worked for the government as an immigration officer. George explained to him that his father was also a barber and wanted to come to Canada to work. To make a long story short, they passed all the tests and the medical requirements and George was able to bring all three of them over.
George reflected back and told me the following story about his father. "When I was growing up, my father was away for long periods of time because of the war so I spent many years with my grandfather. When my dad came back from the war I didn't know him, I thought he was a bad soldier and I ran away from him but soon I got to know him. Having my dad come to Canada and working together with him in my shop was wonderful. He taught me how to be a barber in the first place and now we were working together. It was the best thing in my life. He was a great dad, a dedicated partner and my best friend and I thank the Good Lord for giving me this opportunity to spend those 15 years together. My parents eventually went back to Greece because my mother didn't want to die here; she wanted to go back to her homeland. They went back to Greece in the late 1980s.
"I have said it many times over; thank God I ended up in Prince George. The people of Prince George have always treated me like an adopted son; everyone has always been very good to me.
"I gave haircuts to many great people - in fact just too many to name them all but I would like to make mention that I have been cutting the hair of Turner Stevenson since he was a baby. Turner is a Canadian former professional ice hockey right winger who played 13 seasons in the National Hockey League. Some of my first and long term clients were Orville Claffey, Pat Martin, Cliff Haiste and Harold Moffat."
George is full of great stories but the one I liked best is how he used to tease his wife Helen. He told me that they used to go to the drive in theatre, which was located by the old dump. The bears could smell the food and they use to come and roam around the area while they were at the movies. He would tease Helen and try to coax her to open the car door. She wouldn't do it because she was afraid she would be eaten by the bears.
George and Helen always had time to give back to the community of Prince George. Together they became integral parts of the Greek community helping to build the Greek Orthodox Church at 5th and Tabor.
He gave me his business card and on the back it says, "Keep on clipping. Have no fear, George is still here. George is getting older but will keep on clipping for a couple more years, till he reaches his 50th year."
Well, George is nearly 80 and he just celebrated that 50th year with a great big party. He has no intention of retiring. He said with a twinkle in his eyes, "My profession has become a pleasure and a source of therapy. It has become my social gathering, it is no longer a job and besides that I am just not ready for the rocking chair. Just drop by and see me. I am at the Days Inn Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thank you to all my clients for your respect, friendship and your business over the past 50 years."