Mike Bain stands in front of a reproduction show globe. (He also has an authentic version safely stored on a shelf). In days when literacy was uncommon

Castor Pharmacy Museum a treasure trove of pharmaceutical curiosities

The minds behind Dr. Chase’s Syrup of Linseed and Turpentine were a confident bunch.

CASTOR — The minds behind Dr. Chase’s Syrup of Linseed and Turpentine were a confident bunch.

“Children Love to Take It” was their bold assertion on every box of their purported remedy for coughs, colds and throat irritation.

“That’s just false advertising,” exclaims Wendy Bain with mock outrage.

Husband Mike Bain also has his doubts about Dr. Chase’s claims.

“I’m not sure with a double blind, controlled study it would stand up,” says the retired pharmacist.

Dr. Chase’s is just one of thousands of potions, elixirs, cordials, lotions, tonics, restoratives, as well as more recognizable medicines such as Aspirin, that Bain has collected and are now housed in his very own Castor Pharmacy Museum.

It is located on the village’s main street in a historic pharmacy that was built in 1921 as McDermid Drugs (the original sign was found in a crawl space and is now mounted on a wall) and where Mike’s father, Mike Sr., apprenticed. He would eventually buy it and run it for more than 30 years as Castor Drugs.

Mike Jr. carried on the tradition of apprenticing at the pharmacy and ran it at the same location until 1986, when he moved to a more modern location nearby. He kept the old pharmacy building, using it for storage for many years.

Always interested in pharmacy’s fascinating — and sometimes bizarre — past, Bain, 65, has been an avid collector of the trade’s paraphernalia for years. On retirement in 2008, he began thinking about a permanent home for the huge collection that filled his basement.

As Wendy tells it: “I said, ‘Let’s do something with this or let’s get rid of it.’

“Thank goodness, he did something with it.”

Wendy, an antique collector and refinisher in her own right, has been deeply involved in helping restore the pharmacy building and its fittings to their former glory. Hours were spent prying up tiles and plywood to reveal the original wood floor below.

Wainscotting, shelves and medicine storage units were rescued and found a new home in Castor.

One of the biggest treasure troves was found in Strathmore, where the fittings and contents of an old drug store from Standard had ended up in a loft.

“It was a gold mine up there,” recalls Mike. “There was just tons and tons of stuff. Some of it dated back to the turn of the century.”

Six months of painstaking bottle cleaning followed before they were fit to put on shelves.

He managed to get the first half of the Pharmacy Museum open in time to celebrate Castor’s centennial in 2010 — a sight his late father, then 99 years old, got to see. The museum has since expanded and now covers 2,000 square feet.

A more recent find was a 100-drawer Schwartz Cabinet from Edmonton’s venerable Misericordia Hospital. Designed for medication bottles, the ingenious drawers are designed to pull out and lay flat against the face of the cabinet so pharmacists don’t have to crane their necks to read bottle labels.

The 100-drawer cabinet dates from the 1920s to 1940s and will soon be filled with Bain’s finds.

Another lead sent him after a large medicine cabinet from what is considered Alberta’s first pharmacy. The cabinet is original to the pharmacy that opened in 1885.

A 1905 Camrose drug store counter was found in a furnace room … and on it goes.

Bain has not limited his collection to the medicinal side of pharmacy. He has built an impressive collection of the kinds of day-to-day items that would have been stocked in the shops of old.

Razors, makeup, perfume, candy and soft drinks were all part of a typical pharmacy’s inventory, as they are often still today.

One old sign urges shoppers to smoke Craven “A,” with the reassurance that it “will not affect your throat.”

Elsewhere, a cabinet’s drawers are full of pharmacy and drug-company sponsored song books, child naming guides and other valuable contributions to child rearing.

A baby naming book from 1927 presciently warns parents not to “burden the children with ugly or fanciful names that will subject them to ridicule in their school days.”

The 1928 Alka Seltzer song book is full of toe-tappers such as I’ll Take You Home Kathleen, a standard tune to end a dance.

Always looking to fill in the blanks in his recreated pharmacy, Mike hopes to create an authentic soda fountain counter and is on the search for the equipment. He’s looking for a local connection at best and, at the very least, an Alberta provenance.

Surveying his Alladin’s Cave of pharmaceutical curiosities, Bain tries to put into words the lure of his unusual hobby.

“Part of it is the treasure hunt,” he says.

But that’s not the biggest attraction. “It’s the little stories of things and the history of things.

“We lose so much of the history and so many of the stories.”

And there are the journeys and friendships he’s made over the years. “It’s just been a tremendous social thing.”

The museum doesn’t have regular hours, but the Bains are always happy to open up for visitors, school groups and events. If you are in the area, don’t miss the opportunity. Call 403-741-6202 or 403-882-3356.


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