B.C. pharmacist discovers hidden history of defunct drugstore

·3 min read

When pharmacist Logan McNeil bought a property last year in downtown Vernon, B.C., for his new drugstore, he had no idea the site was previously occupied by a long-defunct pharmacy well known to many people who grew up in the community.

But then this August, his construction team discovered a bill issued by MacKay's Prescriptions, a family-run business that operated at the same address from 1948 to 1986.

The cursive writing on the yellowish paper indicates it was issued on Dec. 17, 1970 to Blumenauer's Drug Store, another local pharmacy that no longer exists.

McNeil didn't pay much attention to the small piece of paper until he opened his business on Saturday, when he thought it might be a good idea to try and find the MacKay family using social media.

Much to McNeil's surprise, Janis MacKay — daughter of the late MacKay's Prescriptions owner Doug MacKay — responded to him a day after he posted a photo of the bill on Facebook.

Submitted by Janis MacKay
Submitted by Janis MacKay

A North Okanagan resident, she even visited McNeil's store on Tuesday and showed him all the hidden treasures in the basement left from the old pharmacy, including a money drawer and her grandparents' typewriter and stove.

"It's just interesting to hear all the history," McNeil, 36, told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.

Submitted by Logan McNeil
Submitted by Logan McNeil

Janis MacKay brought several vintage photos to McNeil's pharmacy, along with an old newspaper.

The paper revealed that Vernon-born Doug MacKay became a business partner of his pharmacist father Francis Manuel MacKay two years after graduating with a pharmacy degree from University of British Columbia in 1952. Francis MacKay had founded the drugstore, and worked there until his death in 1962.

Doug MacKay's youngest daughter, Sandy MacKay, worked for four months in the drugstore during a year-long study break from University of Victoria, managing the cash register, stocking the shelves and ordering products with her bookkeeper mother and two sisters.

She remembers her father, who died 12 years ago, as a man of unrivalled work ethic.

"My dad worked every day of the year except for two. He closed on Christmas and he closed on New Year's [Day]," she said.

"Invariably we'd get a phone call on Christmas Day, and Dad would go into the store and open up the store for someone who either needed a prescription or needed something that they had forgotten."

Submitted by Janis MacKay
Submitted by Janis MacKay

MacKay says her father would also do home deliveries to his customers after business hours.

Most of MacKay's Prescriptions' documents were destroyed for privacy reasons after it was sold to a chain pharmacy two decades ago, but to honour her father's legacy, Sandy MacKay has kept two prescription forms issued to him on her and her sister Janis's birthdays in 1956 and 1960.

Meanwhile, McNeil is running the new drugstore with a fellow pharmacist and their wives.

Sandy MacKay says she and her sisters are thrilled this new family-run business can continue their father's legacy.

"[The new pharmacy] really holds true to the vision of my father, which was personal care," she said. "I'm hoping that people will walk through the door in his memory."

Tap the link below to listen to Sandy MacKay and Logan McNeil's interview on Daybreak South:

Submitted by Janis MacKay
Submitted by Janis MacKay