Shirley Romany has been a pioneering Jasper Place business owner since the late 1960s. At that time, the Canadian government was opening up its immigration policy, which had previously set severe barriers to entry for racialized people from the Caribbean.
In the 1950s and 60s, that began to shift as the Canadian government actively recruited immigrants to work in the oil industry, or as teachers and nurses. British-trained nurses could come directly from the Caribbean to work. Others, like Romany, came here to train. Shirley notes that to this day, Caribbean people are loyal to Pierre Trudeau for his equal opportunity measures of immigration. She saw, however, a greater opportunity than nursing.
“They sent me on a Nursing scholarship, but I was born a hairdresser.”
She apprenticed with Delores Barker (known as Dell), and then bought a 2-chair salon in 1968 just west of 155th Street on Stony Plain Road and called it Shirley’s House of Beauty. In her 50+ years of having a salon, most of her businesses have been located in Jasper Place. When she first arrived, she lived in a walk-up close to the shop and charged $2.50 for a hairdo. On Sundays, Shirley and her young son would go to church, for a bite to eat, and then to the Jasper Place Cinema. They would pay a quarter for her and 10 or 15 cents for him to see a western. She then bought two large lots just south of the Orange Hub on 156th Street for $30,000.
At first, her clients were local women that worked in downtown department stores and women from the Enoch Cree Nation. Shirley built close relationships with local Indigenous people who came into the city from Enoch and other Reserves. Many of her early clients were Indigenous and she cared for their families. She is known as “Auntie Shirley” by many people in Enoch.
There have always been Black people in Canada, both immigrants and native-born. But the dominant culture has generally been unwelcoming. So, despite themselves being a mixture of cultures and having arrived from different places at different times, Black people in Edmonton have created a community marked by solidarity demonstrated in social events and in places of gathering like Shirley’s shop. For years, Shirley’s House of Beauty was one of the few places in Edmonton that specialized in Black hair. Though Shirley initially was unable to acquire Trinidadian food in Edmonton, Jasper Place allowed her to connect to a variety of cultures, from the Asian grocers, to Ukrainian-owned restaurants, and the Indigenous communities. “In those days, everything was old. Across from me were wooden buildings, and they had shoemakers and dressmakers and garages on Stony Plain Road. People came in from Enoch and other reserves close to the city on bikes, or walking because it was close and there were trails.”
Since her first shop in Jasper Place in the 1960s, she has established many shops. Her signature establishment, Ebony and Ivory, was an industry standard for many decades. Shirley Romany sold Ebony and Ivory, and currently owns Bronze and Cream Hair and Wig Centre with her husband.
Brooke Leifso is a community-based artist working on the Jasper Place Community History Project (jasperplacehistory.org).