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Up until the 19th century, barbers were generally referred to as barber-surgeons, and were often called upon to perform a variety of tasks such as performing minor surgeries, extracting teeth, and setting fractures, along with cutting hair and shaving beards. However, by the mid-1800s as advances in medicine and surgery surged, this practice had more or less ended and barbers focused solely on cutting and styling men’s hair and facial hair. Barbershops began to flourish, with men visiting these establishments on an almost daily basis for haircuts, beard trims, and warm shaves. It was also a place men could fraternize and stay current on local news and politics.

A black and white photograph of Tillsonburg's main street Broadway. The street is dirt and lined with various buildings and businesses on either side. Horse drawn wagons and carriages are parked outside the buildings. Telephone poles also line the street.

A historical view of Broadway in Tillsonburg, looking north.

old photo of Tillsonburg

A view of the main street in Tillsonburg (Broadway), Ontario in 1919.

By the early 1880s, there were two known barbershops located on Broadway. One was operated by Lester Munro on the east end of Broadway. The other was operated by Albert Freeman. Albert was born in Dereham Township in 1862 to David and Sarah Freeman; both African Americans that had immigrated to Ontario sometime in the mid-1800s. The business must have been a success, as Albert was able to hire another barber, George Wayner, to work in the shop. Although George Wayner is listed in the 1881 Oxford Directory, it appears he did not stay long in Tillsonsburg, as that same year he immigrated to Michigan to open his own barbershop. Born on December 1, 1885 in North Norwich Township, George was also of African American descent, and would pass away in Pontiac, Michigan in 1928.

It appears that Albert also didn’t stay long in Tillsonburg as, by the 1891 census, he is listed as living with his mother and sister in Brantford where he worked as a barber.

A page from the 1881 census for Tillsonburg, includes Albert Freeman, age 19.

Albert Freeman, aged 19 in the 1881 census.