A fond farewell to favourite Bella Rouge

Michelle, Manush and Rhona. Courtesy of Bella Rouge.
Michelle, Manush and Rhona. Courtesy of Bella Rouge.

More change is coming to the small retail strip on Millwood Road between Rumsey and Airdrie. 

In April, Leaside Hair Design came to the end of its 25-year stretch. Now, the building housing Bella Rouge at the south end of the strip has been sold, and Rhona McDonald, its owner, has decided this would be a good time to retire – at least for now.

If you’re an avid Leaside Life reader with a good memory, you will know that I wrote about Rhona, Michelle and Manush in the October 2019 issue. And now I’m back as they bid the neighbourhood farewell. That same grace was on display as the business closed, with clients and friends dropping by, enjoying refreshments, and yes, shedding tears. Because while Bella Rouge existed for 12 years, Rhona has clients who have been following her around the neighbourhood for the past 40 years. She didn’t actually sell her equipment – it went into storage in Sundridge, Ont. for the time being. 

Those of us with a regular hairstylist know that it’s not just getting hair trimmed that happens when you show up. Clients in Rhona’s salon knew that even if they came in feeling sad, they’d leave with a smile – having enjoyed the conversation, the beverage selection, and maybe a chocolate too – as well as having their hair treated/coloured/cut – whatever.

It has always been a point of pride for that large front window to be sparkling clean, for there to be a dog dish with water outside, dog cookies available inside, and seasonal planters gracing the curb. It may not be legally binding, but Rhona has asked that the new owner continue these niceties. 

What’s next for everyone? In the short term, Rhona is having chemo treatments as a precaution following surgery in June, with a good prognosis. Her daughter Michelle, the salon manager who originally trained as an interior designer, “hasn’t a clue as to what is next, but there are opportunities both in Toronto and in Sundridge.” Manush, the salon’s artistic director, has taken a short break to go home to Albania, before making a decision on her future. Bella Rouge is keeping up both its Facebook and Instagram pages for the time being.

You may also remember that “Absolute Beauty by Jess” had space at Bella Rouge as well. (Read Leaside Life, September 2019) Jess Puentes was on site, without clients coming in throughout Covid, developing her own skincare line. Because she was there, she could keep on top of snow shovelling, mail delivery, and more for Rhona during that time. You can now find Jess at 862 Eglinton Ave. East, Suite 205, at Laird Drive. 

And the building itself? According to Alan Redway, it started as a barber shop, with the barber’s wife as a hairdresser in the back. Then it was the original home of Sandy’s Cycles before that business moved to Laird, and then Research Road. Many of us also remember the heyday of Video Variables until the business owner decamped to Prince Edward County. Back to hair again with The Bayview Clipper, and until now, Bella Rouge. Next up?

Alan Redway remembers the building whose most recent occupant was Bella Rouge on Millwood…

The first barber I remember was Arnold Smith. He was my dad’s and my own barber. My mother and my wife, Louise, went to Mae and Mary and later Cathy, the hairdresser behind the barber shop. Mae was from Nova Scotia, and when she retired told customers she was returning there, but Louise was invited to lunch with Mary and Cathy more than once.

Later, Frank Sirovic was the barber and owner of the building. Frank was my barber off and on. He was originally a barber in the Royal York Hotel and later had a barber shop on Yonge St. north of my law office. The priest at St. Anselm’s introduced him to the woman who became his wife. He died of a heart attack and fell down the stairs from his apartment in that building. Memories.

Alan Redway is a former Leaside alderman, East York mayor and federal cabinet minister.

About Lorna Krawchuk 178 Articles
Lorna Krawchuk is publisher of Leaside Life. She is actively involved in St. Cuthbert’s Church. Her volunteer activities with the Leaside Property Owners’ Association led to her being elected a Councillor in the Borough of East York for 9 years before amalgamation in 1998. She also held a variety of volunteer leadership positions with the Girl Guides of Canada for over 30 years. Lorna has been a Leasider since 1968.