Refugee revives his barber career — and keeps a decades-old Halifax legacy alive

Barran Barber Shop opened shortly after the owner of the former Starlite Barber Shop on Halifax's Bayers Road retired.

'If it wasn't for the business here, it could be a different picture,' says Jakar Al Isso

Jakar Al Isso cuts the hair of Peter Gilbey. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Jakar Al Isso carefully pulls the hair through his fingers, closely eyeing the strands before making the first cut.

After several years in refugee camps, where he was only able to work minimum-wage jobs, the Kurdish-Syrian man now has his own barber shop in Halifax.

"We just started so we're getting some new people and slowly, slowly it seems like it's going to get better," Al Isso told CBC News, speaking through his uncle Omar Al Isso, who acted as a translator.

"I like to start my own job. When I got this little shop here, it was a good deal, rent is good, so for a start to work, to build kind of a self-business, this is the best for [now]."

Jakar Al Isso, left, and his uncle Omar Al Isso stand in front of the Barran Barber Shop. (Emma Davie/CBC)

It started as a chance meeting last December.

The barber shop's previous owner, Cindi MacPherson, was retiring after more than four decades working at the Starlite Barber Shop on Bayers Road.

For months she tried unsuccessfully to sell the place, and despite not wanting to let the legacy slip away, she finally decided to just close up shop.

But Jakar Al Isso, who cut hair in Syria for years and was working for another barber in Halifax after he arrived in Canada in December 2016, heard about the shop. So he and his uncle went to check it out.

"We talked to the lady and she was happy to give up the shop to somebody new," Omar Al Isso said. "When she learned we wanted to start a barber shop for newcomers, she tried to help. She's a great lady."

Cindi MacPherson worked at the Starlite Barber Shop for 42 years. (Emma Davie/CBC)

In January, Barran Barber Shop reopened in the Starlite's place.

​And MacPherson's loyal clients have kept coming back, even after her retirement.

On Sunday, Peter Gilbey was there for his first haircut at the new barber shop. He'd been going to the Starlite for 10 years.

"It's hard to find a good barber shop. A lot of the barber shops now are into the younger kids with different styles and so on. So I thought I'd come back here because it's familiar," he said.

Barran Barber Shop on Bayers Road took over from the former Starlite Barber Shop after the owner retired in December. (Emma Davie/CBC)

The job is also keeping Jakar Al Isso busy as he waits for his wife and young daughter to join him in Canada.

The family fled Syria to Turkey. Eventually, they were accepted as refugees to Canada.

Jakar Al Isso's wife went back to Syria to say goodbye to her mom, but tensions between Syria and Turkey worsened, and while she was there, Turkey closed the border.

"It was really strict. So I told Jakar, when the embassy calls you for scheduled transportation to Canada, say, 'OK, I'm going to go by myself and my wife will come later,'" Omar Al Isso said.

"During this time, his wife with the little girl went to the Kurdistan region in Iraq. She's still there."

Waiting for wife, daughter

He said his nephew's wife is waiting to get to Europe and from there make her way to Canada.

But it hasn't been easy on Jakar Al Isso.

"Of course, it's very hard for me. For almost two years I didn't see them. If it wasn't for the business here, it could be a different picture," he said.

For now, he will keep himself busy in his shop.

Omar Al Isso said his nephew still can't believe that after living here for just over a year, he already has his own business.​

"The life here is very good compared to where he was and he is so happy he gets a chance to be here."