Visit Skeeter's, the Winnipeg barber shop that's a community fixture in the North End
Skeeter Paul's customers like that they can hear Anishinaabemowin being spoken at the shop
The North End of Winnipeg has always had a tough reputation, but tucked away on Selkirk Avenue lies an Anishinaabe-owned barbershop that reminds its customers of home.
"I wouldn't be here without my community," said Skeeter Paul.
Paul, the owner and hairstylist for Skeeter's Unisex Hairstyling, is Anishinaabe and grew up speaking Anishinaabemowin in Lake Manitoba First Nation, about 180 km northwest of Winnipeg. As a child, she remembers travelling to the nearby community of Ashern to get her hair cut.
Paul went into a hairdressing program at R.B Russell high school in Winnipeg and gained experience cutting hair at mall barber shops.
"I used to work in malls and that's not where I wanted to be," she said.
She left her job at the mall and went to cut hair in a neighbourhood that she was familiar with, the North End.
"There's a lot of Aboriginal people around here," said Paul. "And I like working with my people."
She has now been cutting hair in the predominantly Indigenous neighbourhood for 15 years. One of her locations was on Selkirk and Salter; another was a failed stint directly across the street from where she operates today.
At the time, 567 Selkirk Avenue housed Romeo's Beauty Salon.
"I was charging $9 and Romeo's were charging $5," she said.
But when Romeo's closed, Paul used the little bit of money that she had and contacted the owner of the building. She paid one month's rent and bought a used barber chair and mirror to start the business.
The location had been a North End barbershop for at least 30 years and people were so used to going to that location for $5 haircuts, that clientele were already there for the new business owner.
She's been cutting hair at that location now for 11 years.
Inside the barbershop is a checkered, black and white tile floor and pictures of Paul's grandchildren hanging on the walls. The barbershop doesn't take appointments and when customers walk through the door, the first question they ask is "Are you busy?"
Drawing in customers
Paul has a loyal customer base, one that is primarily made up of Indigenous people from the North End, but also people who travel to Winnipeg from nearby reserves.
"There are a lot of people that come from the surrounding areas for haircuts," she said.
"They like that the language can be spoken. A lot of the times, people will sit here and speak the language and they like that."
Owning a business in the North End doesn't come without its challenges.
Paul said she lost business when road repairs on Selkirk Avenue blocked traffic for half the year in 2016.
The neighbourhood is also known for having high rates of poverty and violence.
Life in the North End
Ernest Moosetail is from Pine Creek First Nation and has been working as a carpenter in Baker Lake, Nunavut, for 11 years. He still goes to Skeeter's for his haircuts.
He lived in the North End for 10 years and said he never had a problem with anyone while living there.
"There's some good and some bad," he said.
He said young people can be negatively influenced by the bad elements in the community.
"They get led in the wrong direction right off the bat, before they get a chance to choose to be what they want to be."
However, he said it's not an accurate reflection of the community vibe that exists for many of the residents.
"They make the people look bad on the news. It's really not that bad."
Paul said the recent renovations at Merchants Corner have brought more foot traffic to the street.
There are some new businesses and there are education programs being offered by the University of Winnipeg, Urban Circle Training Centre, and the University of Manitoba.
Paul said she is happy to be able to be supported by the community in the North End.
"If the people didn't come to support the shop, I wouldn't make it here," she said.