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history of apothecary hall

At the time of the Great Fire in St. John’s in 1892, there were about eight drug stores operating in the city. All but two were destroyed by that fire, which nearly destroyed the entire city. Immediately following the fire the process of rebuilding the city began. A number of drug stores reopened in temporary locations until new premises were constructed.


During the last half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, drug stores in Newfoundland operated along the lines of the traditional British drug stores. The profession was heavily influenced by the British system, mainly because all early druggists had emigrated from the British Isles. The English system of apprenticeship was in vogue to train new druggists; most goods were purchased from England; drug stores were designed along traditional English style.


Located on 488 Water Street on the corner of Brennan Street, at the west end of the oldest street in North America, APOTHECARY HALL housed the Peter O’Mara Drug Store from 1922 until 1986. It was one of the last surviving old drug stores to operate in the province. This business originally operated from 484-486 Water Street which had been established in 1899 as the West End Drug Store, owned and operated Lawrence Hannaford. It was purchased in 1905 by Peter O’Mara.


In 1922 Peter O’Mara had decided that he had outgrown his location at 484-486 Water Street and decided to construct a new drug store on vacant land at 488 Water Street at the corner of Brennan Street. On this site he erected a new building to house his drug store, and later, living quarters on the second floor. The building was designed by John E. Hoskins, a well-known local architect, who at the time was employed by the Reid Newfoundland Company, operators of the Newfoundland Railway. The firm of M. & E. Kennedy, Contractors and Builders was engaged to construct the building.


Having been brought up in the traditional English style of pharmacy, first as an apprentice and later as an employee of Thomas McMurdo and Company, Peter O`Mara was most familiar with the style of pharmacy which existed in the mid to late 1800`s. He therefore decided to construct a building which bore a resemblance to drug stores of the period just before the Great Fire.


The building is the last remnant of the urban commercial street scape of Water Street West. Its architecture is a form of Art Nouveau and Art Deco amalgam, and is particularly interesting because of its exterior decoration. It appears to have direct European architectural influence. Being somewhat individualistic, it is almost reminiscent of the Charles Rennie MacKintosh restrained (celtic) variation of Art Nouveau.


At the time of construction the building was piped for gas. However it was never lit by gas lights. It was a common practice in the old drug stores to use gas to produce distilled water and in the preparation of certain compounded medicines. The original coin operated gas meter can be seen in the museum, as well as the ornate embossed tin ceilings. The flooring is of maple hardwood and has withstood the considerable traffic quite well. The light fixtures in the drug store are reproductions of turn of the century gas lights, which have been converted to electric. On the second floor of the building is a board room and library for use by the NLPB. Both rooms have original fireplaces; one being an Art Deco fireplace, the other of Bauhaus design. The basement, which was used for storage, contains a large walk-in vault.

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MUN Digital Archives Initiative

Daily Telegram 1919-07-07

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