Lifestyle

The saga of Sooke’s first pharmacy

While Jim Mitchell’s building is much changed today, when Doug Brownsey built this enterprise in 1958, it housed a grocery store and the post office, before John Farmer bought it and ran his Seaview Pharmacy there. - SRHS photo
While Jim Mitchell’s building is much changed today, when Doug Brownsey built this enterprise in 1958, it housed a grocery store and the post office, before John Farmer bought it and ran his Seaview Pharmacy there.
— image credit: SRHS photo

It was in long ago 1957 that the first beginning of a drugstore for Sooke was initiated by Alice K. Feltus. She called her business, at the southeastern corner of Sooke Road and Murray Road, Sooke Clinic Store. (See first photo) She carried a variety of non-prescription health supplies and miscellaneous personal items. This was a welcome innovation for our semi-rural community.

The building (which still stands) was owned by Dr. Norman Goodwin, who had established a medical office next door. When prescriptions were written, they were shipped by stage into a pharmacy in Colwood, where they were filled and returned to Alice who held them for the patient in Sooke. Joe Despot was the pharmacist who purchased the business from Alice Feltus, but it wasn’t long before the pharmacy was taken over by George West.

While George was operating the drugstore as Seaview Pharmacy, he sometimes took time off and would look for a young pharmacist to fill in for his holiday time. The fledgling pharmacist that he hired was John Farmer, a Victoria boy who had just graduated from UBC. Unable to find a permanent position locally, John Farmer and his wife Cecile went to Prince Rupert where there was an opening.

As fate would have it, John and Cecile were back in Sooke again before much time had passed. George West was a sailing enthusiast and when he had an afternoon off, he would enjoy setting off in his sloop for a few hours of sailing in the basin. When he failed to return one day he was found drifting near Coopers Cove; sadly, a victim of a heart attack.

Offered the opportunity to purchase the pharmacy, John Farmer’s response was immediate, and he set about building up the Seaview Pharmacy business over the next five years. In 1971 he was ready to expand, and moved his pharmacy to the building now owned by Jim Mitchell, which had been built by Doug Brownsey in 1958. (see second photo). Readers will recognize this as the block across the street from today’s Sooke Home Hardware. For their home, John and Cecile purchased property in Otter Point, where they raised their five children.

By 1981, when Stan Eakin built the Evergreen Shopping Mall, John Farmer moved his ever-expanding business into the exciting new plaza.

As he began to carry more lines of merchandise, he moved to a larger facility within the center, where the business has remained ever since. The biggest change within the past two decades was the Farmer family’s sale to Shoppers in 1990. While the sale of Seaview took place, John and Cecile became owners of the Shoppers franchise, where John remained as pharmacist and store manager, along with son Marcus, until his retirement in April of 2009, when the franchise was sold.

While the fine new Shoppers emporium which opens this month is not under the ownership of the Farmers, still, with their eldest son Marcus managing the store and one of their daughters Dee on the pharmacy staff, it does seem a continuation of the story or at least the legacy that John Farmer, kindly pharmacist, has shared with the people of Sooke.

As residents look forward to exploring the new facility, it seems certain that there will be an enormous range of items to tempt the shopper – what a vastly different world from those long-ago days of 1957, and the band-aids and ointments that became available to us at Sooke Clinic Store!

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum

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