By Jill Ashley
I wanted to be part of a franchise system and run my own business for a long time. My husband and I sought an opportunity that would give us the lifestyle we wanted for our family. We looked at different franchises off and on for about 10 years or so, but nothing jumped out at us. As soon as we saw the Tommy Guns barber shop concept, though, I knew this is what we had been waiting for.
Growing up as a prairie girl
I was born in Hines Creek, Alta., in 1976, and grew up on a farm. My mom stayed home with us until she passed away in a car accident when I was five years old. My dad was a forester and had to raise us on his own. He did a pretty good job, but I remember eating a lot of chili and ribs, as these were what he knew how to make well! I also remember thinking it was my job to take care of my younger brother and sister, so I looked out for them a lot and learned about responsibility from a young age.
I attended the only elementary school in town from kindergarten to Grade 6, then moved on to our only high school from Grade 7 onward. With Hines Creek’s population at about 500 people, both of the schools were pretty much in the same yard, so I spent all 12 of those years with most of the same kids.
When I was in Grade 3, my dad met my stepmom, who eventually moved to the farm with her three daughters. This made us a family of six kids—five girls and one boy—and my parents did an excellent job of blending the two families together. All six of us were within six-and-a-half years of each other’s ages. There was a lot of estrogen and only one washroom!
We played a lot of sports together and used to pull a tube behind a quad—i.e. all-terrain vehicle (ATV)—for hours in the winter. One of my fondest memories was when all eight of us would hang out as a family and watch TV on one of two channels.
Another of our favourite things to do as kids was to go exploring. Since my dad was a forester, we would grab a roll of tree-flagging ribbon and flag our way through the bush, down to the creeks to go swimming, and then follow the ribbon on our way back. I also remember at one point all six of us trying to dig a swimming pool between the trees beside our house. My parents said if we could dig the pool out, they would fill it with sand for us. That kept us busy for a whole summer, but we only managed to get about one foot down in the ground because of all the tree roots.
We did not get regular allowances growing up, so we always had to work for our money. We started babysitting and doing whatever jobs we could find to be able to buy any extra things we wanted. My parents were always really good with money that way and made sure to pass that lesson along to me and my siblings.
I was always into track, right from elementary to senior high school, participating in high jump and running relays. I also played basketball on the junior and senior high school teams, making it to the provincials in my senior year. In that same year, I was also student council president.
Education was always a priority for my family. We all excelled in school and were on the honour roll. Once I finished high school, I attended Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) for six years. Originally, I was going to be an environmental biologist, but two years into the program, I decided to switch and become a forester just like my dad and one of my sisters. In April 2000, I graduated with a Bachelor of Forest Resource Management degree with distinction.
I always worked part-time while attending college. First I pumped gas for a year or two, then I got a job in the local Canadian Forest Product (Canfor) sawmill on the weekends. During the summer, I worked at a pulp mill in Taylor, B.C.