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ICYMI: Meet Allan Rutherford: The man behind 1,000 free manicures at Squamish's Hilltop House

From personal loss to touching many hands with kindness, one local's story of volunteering in ӣƵcare home inspires a community with hope and beauty.
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Allan Rutherford out front of Hilltop House, where he provides manicures.

It is unclear who first said it, but the oft-repeated beauty industry saying, "Life is not perfect, but your nails can be," likely rings true for many residents of Hilltop House, thanks to Squamish’s Allan Rutherford.

The local 77-year-old recently passed the milestone of having given 1,000 manicures at ӣƵlong-term care facility Hilltop House.

Rutherford moved to ӣƵto be closer to family in 2018 and has volunteered his time to provide the service for free for two years, shortly after his wife of 34 years, , passed away at Hilltop in 2022.

The ӣƵ sat down with the mild-mannered and soft-spoken Rutherford on a bench out front of the residence for a wide-ranging chat about his life, volunteering and what he has learned along the way.

What follows is a version of that conversation edited for length and clarity.

Q: How did it come about that you were giving manicures to residents at Hilltop House?

A: I had done Charlotte's manicures for quite a while. We would have a "spa day" about once a month. So, I'd do her nails, and I'd colour her hair, and she would cut my hair. So, I continued to do her nails when she moved here to Hilltop. She would show everyone, and they all seemed to notice and like them.

Then, a couple of months after her death, staff here asked me if I would consider volunteering to provide manicures for residents.

So I've been doing that on Thursday afternoons and now also on Sunday mornings every week. The sessions are about two and a half hours. I see an average of about five residents per visit, 15 to 20 minutes per manicure.

Q: And you surpassed 1,000 manicures recently?

A: Yes, that surprised me, but then when I added up, you know, it's been two years.

(Note, due to health and safety regulations, Rutherford paints and files, but does not cut nails.)

Q: And you bring your own supplies—all the polish?

A: Betty at Cloud 9 Wellness Spa has been super supportive of me. When I told her what I was doing, she said, 'Oh, what do you need?' She's been a really great supporter.

Q: What are some takeaways for you from doing this?

A: I think it's a privilege to be able to give them a little bright spot in their day. They love having their nails done and picking colours. If they can't pick a colour, I just pick it for them.

Q: Do you have a favourite colour that you like to paint?

A: I like to use the lighter colours. You know, soft ones, maybe with a little bit of sparkle. And good quality polish. Typically, the peach colours and really, really light pink, they look great.

Q: Any tips for folks doing their own nails?

A: Shape the nails well; don't let them get too long. If you do, they'll split through. Try to avoid damage.

Q: Do you have a lot of repeat customers?

A: I have one lady on Thursdays who was always the first one there waiting for me. She was my number 1,000. She was pleased about that.

Q: What did you do in your paid working life?

A: The last part of my work life; I worked for 20-plus years as a property manager in Ontario for an industrial, commercial developer.

I quit in 2000, and we moved to Nova Scotia and started a woodworking business. It was a good experience. I always wanted to build furniture, so I got my chance.

Q: And you hope to keep doing manicures?

A: Sure. I like to be busy. And I'd missed this, the people I have gotten to meet.

Q: I am sure there are residents here who you got to know who have died. That must be hard. How do you navigate it mentally?

A: Yes. As soon as I come in, I check the wall where the pictures are posted to see if anyone I know has passed. You just mourn them in your own way—quiet mourning. Certain people become special to you; they're special personalities. You know? And then suddenly, they're gone.

Q: What has what you do taught you about life?

A: Enjoy it every day, really. Make the best of it. It's too easy to just feel down because you really miss someone. But you have to just get up and get moving. I never used to have any time for volunteering, because we were so busy. But when I walked out of here the morning my wife died, my calendar was suddenly empty. And prior to that, it was full every day. And then there was nothing. That's hard.

It was a great opportunity to volunteer here. I have the utmost respect for the staff; they're great. 

Q: What else do you want to say?

A: I guess the main reason for agreeing to do this interview is I would hope that maybe the story would encourage others to volunteer. There's certainly a need.

I also volunteer to drive with  and .

If there are any people out there who have been thinking about volunteering, stop thinking about it and just do it. It's very rewarding, and I get to meet all kinds of people. 

About a local is a semi-regular column that celebrates interesting locals. If you have an idea for someone we should feature (and their permission), let us know at [email protected].

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