In 1964, tattoos weren't just for sailors anymore

Visiting a Victoria studio in 1964, a CBC camera caught a tattoo artist at work and met some of his clients.

Veteran artist 'Doc' Forbes Hendry was inking college kids and moms, but still mostly sailors

Sailors supply steady business for Victoria tattoo artist

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2 years ago
'Doc' Forbes Hendry inks a sword design onto a young sailor in this 1964 profile. 2:26

If you wanted a tattoo in 1964 and lived on the west coast, artist "Doc" Forbes Hendry was the man to see. 

In a shop decorated with flashy designs, he inked just about everyone who walked in. And given his location, in Victoria near the Canadian naval base in Esquimalt, B.C., that mostly meant sailors.

"Doc" Forbes Hendry was adding the final touches to this tattoo for Ed the sailor. (20/20: Diary of a Tattoo Artist/CBC Archives)

"Just about all the fellas on the ship have them," a young sailor, whose name was supplied only as "Ed," told CBC reporter Harry Mannis on the CBC current affairs program 20/20 .

In May 1964, few Canadians had likely set foot in a tattoo studio, and 20/20 gave them a glimpse of the tattooist's craft.  

Hendry said he would charge $8 to $10 for the dagger topped with a creature's head that he was tattooing on Ed's right bicep.

It was Ed's fourth tattoo, and he said his parents hadn't originally been supportive of his decision to get tattooed. 

"They were dead against it, until they saw them," he said. "They really didn't mind then."

While he worked, Hendry described a traditional good-luck tattoo for superstitious sailors: a pig.

"The superstition is, 'a pig on the knee, safety at sea,'" he said, adding that the pig tattoo was popular with sailors of "all nationalities, all over the world." 

Lovebirds for the lady 

'It's something no one can take away from me'

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2 years ago
A client at 'Doc' Forbes Hendry's shop tells reporter Harry Mannis about her tattoos. 1:38

"Joan" was also a client at the tattoo shop. She had first gone to see Hendry a year earlier and was already up to eight tattoos, "including the little tiny ones."

Hendry displayed a spot on his arm where a woman's name had been obscured and his current beau Helen had inked her own underneath. (20/20: Diary of a Tattoo Artist/CBC Archives)

"She'll have a matching pair of lovebirds on her chest," said Hendry, who was inking the second lovebird that day.

Joan told Mannis the procedure wasn't painful.

"There's a slight burning sensation, but other than that, it's not bad," she told Mannis.

Joan, who had a husband and four children, explained why she was "really very proud" of her tattoos. 

"It's something no one can take away from me," she said, "and it's really a beautiful piece of art when it's finished."

Prompted by Mannis, she added that her husband liked the tattoos, and she would support her children getting their own — when they were of age.

"They can make up their own minds and get what they want," she said.

'An easy way to make a living'

How 'Doc' got into the tattoo business

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2 years ago
The artist, who makes his own best canvas, shows some of his tattoos and describes how he got his start. 2:09

Hendry might have been his own best advertisement, with tattoos up both arms and hidden beneath the sleeves of his uniform. He showed a few of them to Mannis and talked about his work.

He said he "fell in love" with tattoos after getting his first at the age of 16, when he was travelling around with shows and circuses.

"I thought, gee, this is an easy way to make a living, sitting around like this drawing on people's arms," he recalled. "I'd done a little artwork before that."

In 1958, Toronto tattoo artist Sailor Joe Simmons told the Globe and Mail there were only three tattoo artists then working in Canada: himself, Charlie Snow in Halifax and "Doc" Forbes Hendry, "out near the navy base on Vancouver Island."

The CBC program guide had more information about "Doc" Forbes Hendry and the practice of tattooing. (CBC Times)

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