When GuelphToday last spoke to local barber Lore Bortolon in June 2017 he was celebrating 20 years at his shop, Good Times Hairstyles, on Surrey Street and more than 40 years in the barbering business. He had no plans at the time to retire let alone open Guelph’s fourth licensed cannabis shop.
“It wasn’t really on my mind,” he said. “I think you prepare yourself that someday you’ll retire but I was in no hurry.”
Men’s hairstyles have changed many times since Lore first picked up his scissors but there is an old saying in the fashion industry that, “The more things change the more they stay the same.”
When he graduated from the Toronto Barber and Hairdressing School in 1975, Trudeau was the prime minister of Canada, a scandal-plagued president had just finished campaigning for re-election in the US and efforts had begun to decriminalize and reform marijuana laws enacted 50 years earlier.
The prime minister was, of course, Pierre Trudeau, the US president was Richard Nixon, and marijuana laws would stay relatively the same for another four and a half decades.
One of the biggest films of 1975 was Shampoo starring Warren Beatty as George, a Beverly Hills hairstylist who elevated barbers to rock-star status. It was an image Lore was happy to embrace.
“Ya, that guy inspired me,” he said. “Something had to inspire me. I did it for a lot of years. I have always had two jobs, music and hair.”
In 1969, Lore, on guitar and his brother Brian, vocals, teamed up with high school friends Don Wilk, Rick Vadori and Loris Bolzon to form the band Farmer. They built a fan base playing high school dances and county fairs until they were all old enough to play bars, then they graduated to the club circuit and concert tours.
Lore said the band name was an homage to their family’s farming heritage in the Treviso Province of Northern Italy, but Brian has a less romantic origin story.
“It was Donny’s father who said, ‘You guys look like a bunch of farmers’,” said Brian. “That’s how we got the name.”
Cannabis use was common for rock musicians and their fans back then, but it was a crime and frowned upon by many of their friends’ parents. Some even complained to Germano and Maria Bortolon about their sons’ rock and roll lifestyle.
“Mom and Dad stood behind us 100 per cent.,” said Brian. “They would tell the other parents, ‘I don’t see my kids doing any harm to anybody else’s kids. They are experiencing and enjoying life.’”
Nevertheless, the idea of opening a recreational cannabis retail shop across from the provincial courthouse and in full view of the front doors of the Guelph Police Service would never have crossed their minds.
Lore bought the house at 83 Surrey St East in 1996 and in 1997, with help from his father, brother, family and friends converted the main floor into Goodtimes Hairstyles.
It was the first shop he opened on his own and he credits much of its success to loyal clients who followed him throughout his career from his first job at Freddie’s Hairstyling, to Cutting Corners on Woolwich Street that he started with his second ex-wife, and all locations in between.
“I have learned how loyal customers can be,” he said. “They kept coming back and helping me.”
That made it especially difficult to tell them he was getting out of the haircutting business.
“I felt guilty because they had been with me so long,” he said. “I probably told them at one time that I would never quit. Barbers don’t quit.”
He had no reason to quit before the pandemic, but the new safety protocols were making it difficult to do the work he used to love.
“It wasn’t fun working with the mask,” he said. “I know it is protocol, but I wasn’t having fun anymore.”
It was a difficult decision, but it created an opportunity to start a family business with his brother Brian and sister Anna.
“The idea came from my son, who has experience in the cannabis cultivation industry,” said Brian. “He told us about other opportunities, and we pursued them.”
Brian has experience running his own tool manufacturing business and Anna is a college professor who teaches business at Conestoga College. Lore brings an artistic flare to the enterprise.
“Lore came up with the name CANJA,” said Anna. “We looked it up and it’s a Portuguese name for chicken soup.”
It is actually a play on the word ganja, a Hindi name for hemp.
Lore explained that CAN, is short for both cannabis and Canada and JA is a slang term for marijuana. The two vertical lines in the logo symbolize Guelph’s two iconic rivers. He drew up his idea for the logo and showed it to his adult nephews and nieces.
“I wasn’t sure how they’d respond,” he said. “They are younger and have their own hip terms. When they saw the name drawn out, they loved it.”
To ensure it was a complete family affair the siblings got a blessing from their 91-year-old mother Maria and a spiritual nod from their father Germano who died in 2013.
“We got our official license on Nov 18, Germano’s birthday,” said Anna. “It was bittersweet on many levels.”
They have their grand opening planned for Friday and will be the fourth licensed cannabis shop to open in Guelph this year. There are 12 other applications pending.
That’s a lot of competition but Lore believes that being an independent, family-owned business with life-long connections in the community, gives them a hometown advantage and he feels blessed to share this next stage in their lives working together as a family.
“You benefit from the passion you put into it,” he said. “I want to learn. I want to keep learning.”