Drugs, stationery and gifts

By Sandra L. Brown

January 10, 2018 1:02 PM

With its inescapable vintage charm one of my favourite areas when visiting a museum is the pioneer drug store. 
As soon as I step over the threshold and walk up to the aged wooden counter my senses are heightened.  This is mostly due to the lingering scents, vast array of items for a range of pioneer ailments and glass bottles of every shape with faded labels.
On one such visit last summer, I read an interesting quote written by James Bryce, “Medicine and dentistry are the only professions that labour incessantly to destroy the reason for their own existence.”
The druggist was responsible for providing everything needed to fill the town doctor’s prescriptions.  His tools of the trade included a standard mortar and pestle, scales to weigh raw ingredients and assorted glassware to store them in. 
Drug stores also sold over the counter patented tonics with their cure-all promises; many of which contained high quantities of alcohol or narcotics such as morphine, cocaine or opium.
The original location of the Medical Hall Drug Co. was on the corner of Broadway and Church Street now known as 50 Street and 49 Avenue. 
Originally containing the land titles office and library, this downtown landmark burnt down in the great fire of 1929, but was quickly rebuilt. 
Medical Hall Drug Co. was one of the earliest businesses in Canada to become connected with the Toronto based Rexall Drug Company.  Amongst its many preserved historical documents, the Lloydminster Regional Archives has a signed letter addressed to Mr. Harold P. Aston. 
It is dated August 16, 1948 and was sent from the president of the Rexall Drug Company Ltd.  The original contract with Rexall was signed in 1910 and the letter indicates they were the 184th agency to be granted in the Dominion of Canada. 
At the writing of this letter, Medical Hall Drug had been in business for 38 years after the Aston family acquired it in 1906. As president, Mr. G. F. Bullock who had previously visited Lloydminster acknowledged Rexall was very pleased with this association and praised the store’s longstanding repute with them.
During the late 1920s and 1930s, coupons in denominations of .25 cents and one dollar were given out with each customer purchase. 
These were redeemable for either individual pieces or sets of dishes which families often used as their everyday tableware. 
Incidentally, these dishes are now highly sought collectable items.  These coupons were also offered at other Rexall stores across the nation.
During its first 10 years of business, Medical Hall Drug was the only drug store in Lloydminster serving the community. 
Throughout their history, they offered more than a typical drug store diversifying into a large variety of merchandise.  Stationery supplies, gifts for every occasion, sporting goods such as baseball, tennis and fishing supplies were stocked. 
A large part of the business came from radios, gramophones, Victrolas and vinyl records.  These first radios were often powered by a six volt battery.
The store was given a quota of household appliances to sell after the Second World War ended.  Stoves and refrigerators were in high demand; there was actually a waiting list during post war times due to a shortage of steel. 
Doug Aston was a third generation owner of the family business and had grown up helping in the store.  He expanded the store’s photography section after developing an interest in cameras and dark room work. 
The store continued to expand throughout the years flourishing as Lloydminster steadily grew. It was sold to Ron Lake in 1989 after more than 80 years in business – an end of a family legacy. It officially closed its doors in 1992.
I recall shopping at Medical Hall Drug and being enveloped in its welcoming atmosphere. 
The diversity of the merchandise, the courteous and knowledgeable staff truly provided an experience to shop and receive customer service beyond expectation. 
From its early humble beginnings to the day it closed, Medical Hall Drug was more than just a building and a business; it was a drug store offering so much more.  It had deep passionate family roots within our community and as they say, important memories begin at home.

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