"Hair ye, hair ye."
It's Monday night at the Sherbrook Inn pub -- a cavernous space whose decor is a mix of VLTs, Old Vienna beer signs and floor-to-ceiling posters of John Wayne saying "Howdy, pilgrim."
The bartender is busily pulling tables together to form one long, continuous row in the centre of the room, just off the dance floor. He was told to expect a crowd of about 25, so "good to be ready," he muses.
A few steps away from him, a fellow sporting a beard as formidable as any grown on Duck Dynasty is setting up a stand-alone banner welcoming tonight's guests, the Manitoba Facial Hair Club -- a hirsute group of gents who hook up at the Wolseley-area watering hole the first Monday of every month.
Back up a sec: the Manitoba Facial Hair what?
Remember that song Signs by the Five Man Electrical Band? More specifically, the part that goes, "long-haired, freaky people need not apply?"
Well, that's not the case tonight.
"Beards, moustaches... we're not too discriminating so long as you have some type of facial hair," says Warren Lillie, the Manitoba Facial Hair Club's founder and president, seconds after he takes his prescribed spot near the middle of the adjoined tables.
Given that Jan. 1, 2000 was the last time Lillie could see his cheek bones, the 33-year-old Dauphin native has "some type of facial hair," all right.
"It was a New Year's resolution-type of thing; I was in Ottawa volunteering with Katimavik and I told myself I wasn't going to shave until I was done with the program. Except I couldn't grow a proper moustache so I decided to go with sideburns, instead," says Lillie, whose ginger mutton chops now extend a good 15 centimetres past his chinny chin chin. (Lillie's nickname is Loaf -- a tag hung on him by his high school buddies who thought he resembled rocker Meat Loaf. "I'm a vegetarian, so I guess Loaf was more appropriate than Meat," he explains.)
In 2009, Lillie was part of a Canadian contingent that travelled to Alaska for the World Beard and Moustache Championships, a biennial competition that draws participants from around the globe. Twenty-four months later, he attended a similar event in Austin, Texas, where, wouldn't you know it, he lost by a whisker for the second time. (The 2015 World Beard and Moustache Championships will be held in Austria and will feature categories like "best Dali moustache" and "best full beard, freestyle.")
"Even though I didn't win, I had an absolute blast both times and when I got back from Texas, I decided it was time to start something local," says Lillie. "So I sat down with a couple of bearded guys I knew and said, 'Hey, let's do this.'"
The MFHC held its inaugural meeting at the King's Head Pub in June 2012. Unfortunately, gawkers outnumbered goatees by about 30 to one.
"It was a slow trickle at first," Lillie admits. "But thanks to word of mouth we started to grow; one month there was five, then 10; last summer we had at least 20 at every get-together. We don't ask anybody to RSVP or anything so we're never sure how many are going to be here; we're pretty laid back that way."
With that, Lillie calls tonight's meeting to order. He asks Don McPhail, the person in charge of club merchandise like T-shirts, buttons and beer koozies, if there are any late additions to the agenda. McPhail nods yes then asks for a show of hands to find out how many people will be attending the group's fivepin bowling night, slated for Windsor Lanes at the end of the month.
After McPhail gets his tally, a fellow to Lillie's right raises his hand.
"They're looking for volunteers at the West End Cultural Centre," reports Nathan Terin, a father of two who says his kids probably wouldn't recognize him without his mountain-man beard. "There have been a number of break-ins in the back parking lot on the night of shows, apparently, so management there wants people to work in pairs, patrolling the lot. The bonus is you get to go to a free concert, every once in a while."
While others pepper Terin for more information, McPhail says opportunities like the one at the West End are what the club has been about since the get-go. It was decided early on, he continues, that simply getting together for drinks, laughs and grooming tips wouldn't cut it.
"We're currently involved with a number of charities around the city including Movember, Skate 4 Cancer and Special Olympics," says McPhail, whose own beard -- according to the closest thing anybody has to a measuring stick -- stretches as long as a king can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
"Yeah, the charity aspect was kind of a no-brainer," Lillie pipes in. "We figured if people were going to turn their heads and stare at us wherever we went then they should at least give us money."
Club members range in age from 20 to 50. Backgrounds are equally diversified; among those in attendance tonight are a plumber, a mechanic, a computer programmer and, in Lillie's case, an aspiring hair stylist.
"I used to work in social services but I lost my job after missing a meeting because I was away at a beard competition," he says. (Yeah, like nobody's ever used that excuse before.)
"So right now I'm taking a 10-month course at Salon Professional Academy and my goal is to open my own salon, somewhere down the road."
And while some female readers may scoff, wondering who would fall for a guy with whiskers of biblical proportions, we'll leave it to Kendall -- the lone woman in attendance -- to answer that query.
"It's super-sexy," she says, in reference to her boyfriend Kyle's five, six and seven o'clock shadow. "I came here for karaoke one night, spotted him, said 'Hi,' and never wanted to say 'Bye.' "
Darrell Crawford is the brains behind Beard Team Canada, an Ontario-based association whose mandate is to act as an umbrella organization for regional clubs like the MFHC.
"Beard Team Canada was formed in 2009 when a number of men from across the country met up at the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Anchorage," says Crawford, when reached at home in Newcastle, Ont. "There are clubs in major cities representing most provinces (and) there have been some proximity get-togethers -- Edmonton/Calgary, Regina/Winnipeg, Ottawa/Toronto -- to date, but we hope to expand the scope and bring more and more clubs together from farther afield."
Crawford, whose own mug hasn't seen a razor since 2007, says Beard Team Canada welcomes "any and all" facial hair styles.
"It is all about respect and passion for growing something from your face -- something that defines each of us as a unique individual. There is no minimum length or fullness requirement. What is important is that you proudly grow what your genes allow."
For more information on the Manitoba Facial Hair Club, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ManitobaFacialHairClub.