What a Guy!

In my last Brown Bag History session, I talked about John Guy Barber, known locally as Guy. I referred to him as our honourary ghost. One of the most frequently asked questions in the museum is whether we have a ghost. After working here for over 25 years, I would have to say that either we do not a ghost, or I lack the required sensitivity to notice such a presence. However, after answering the question over and over I decided that perhaps we should have a ghost, and if we did, I would like our ghost to be Guy Barber.

Guy Barber came to Revelstoke in 1890 as the young community’s first resident jeweller. He was born in either the United States or Manitoba, depending on which census you believe, and received his apprenticeship as a jeweller and watchmaker in Winnipeg before coming first to Kamloops and then to Revelstoke. His father was born in the United States, and his mother was probably born in Manitoba., unless we believe the 1891 Revelstoke census, where he claimed that his mother was Cuban and was born in Cuba. Was this the truth, or was this a young man in his early twenties having a bit of fun with the census-taker? Our reseach shows that his mother was indeed from Manitoba, so for now we will go with the young man’s hijinks theory.

Guy Barber appears in many photographs in the museum’s collection. Many of them are sports pictures, such as the 1891 ski club and the 1909 curling club and the snowshoe club; others show Guy in front of his jewellery store on Front Street, and his later store on Mackenzie Avenue. He also appears in several photographs of local entertainments, such as the 1911 Fireman’s Masquerade Ball.

The early newspapers are full of write ups telling of Guy Barber’s talent as an entertainer. There is hardly a local event that didn’t have Guy listed as a soloist or part of a quartette. His voice was said to be particularly good, and he was also a talented banjo player. He also played alto horn in the city’s first brass band in 1897.

In the mid 1890s, Guy Barber’s name was often linked with that of Lyda Edwards. They were partners in tennis, and at other local events. In November of 1897, though, Lyda married Charles Holten, a Revelstoke pioneer who had made a small fortune with a mining claim in the Lardeau. The museum now has many of the personal papers of the Holten family and they contain some material on Guy Barber, including photographs of Guy’s father and sister, and photographs showing Guy and Lyda on outings together, even while Charles Holten was still alive. What was the connection between Guy and Lyda? Were they friends, or more than that? Guy never married, but does that mean that he didn’t have any children? We’ll never know for sure, but there were rumours.

The early photographs of Guy Barber showed him as a tall, dark, slim man. As time passed, he became quite heavy. He played for the “Fats” team in the “Fats” versus “Leans” Red Cross benefit baseball game in 1915, and continued to grow in girth over the years.. In the 1930s, Guy moved back to Winnipeg, where he passed away in 1937 at the age of about 70.

The photograph shows Guy Barber, far left, with the Revelstoke Ski Club, circa 1891. F.B. Wells is at the right. He brought skis in from Minnesota and sold them in his men's clothing store.

Posted on February 10, 2012 .