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COLUMN: Sole the Druggist a downtown fixture for half a century

Knock knock. “Why, hello Jimmy.” “Hi, Mr. Jackson. Here’s your OxyContin. Mrs. Jackson’s Percodan is in the bag too.
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The Sole shop was a pharmacy under different owners for more than 100 years. Items were packaged in paper from rolls at the counter end and secured with “Sole the Druggist shield” tape. Photo courtesy, Carl Sole

Knock knock.

“Why, hello Jimmy.”

“Hi, Mr. Jackson. Here’s your OxyContin. Mrs. Jackson’s Percodan is in the bag too.”

Though hard to imagine such a scene today, boys all over Sarnia delivered prescription medications for drug stores when the 1960s began. We did it after school, on our bikes.

My buddy Doug Dunn and I both had drug store jobs – Doug for Tamblyn’s, me for Sole the Druggist at 188 North Christina St. – just south of the United Cigar Store at Lochiel.

We were 13.

Sarnia had four other pharmacies downtown – MacDonald’s, Standard, Crosby and Ingersoll’s. Together they shared the heart of the commercial core with shops like Clayton Thomson, Sarnia Hardware, Manley’s, Doug Keddy’s Shoe Store, Wilson’s Radio Store, and the three theatres: the Park, Capital and Odeon.

Born in Sarnia in 1903, Albert Edward Sole graduated from the old Ontario College of Pharmacy in 1927. Following an apprenticeship at Ingersoll Drugs, Albert established his own shop on Nov. 1, 1930, paying $8,000 for the 800-square-foot building at 188 Christina.

Sole the Druggist was a downtown fixture at that address, and later next door at 190 Christina, for more than half a century,

“Ab” was known to his fellow merchants, to his brother Rotarians, to suppliers, customers, employees and all who knew him as one of the community’s true gentlemen – polite, considerate, and well liked by all.

He had a flair for photography and could often be seen on the sidewalk in front of the shop, taking photos of parades and civic events. The photos would later be displayed as 8x10s in the spacious front windows, together with other interesting historical or work-related displays – a collection of vintage tools, or old pharmaceutical bottles and the like.

Sole the Druggist also was popular for becoming one of the first downtown shops to install air conditioning.

Ab Sole didn’t own a boat, yet was a lifelong member of the Sarnia Yacht Club. His racing photos also often found their way into the display windows at Sole the Druggist. He was also one of Sarnia’s early ham radio operators (call sign 3DA).

In 1981, Sole the Druggist was bought out by ‘big pharma’ along with Crosby Drugs, becoming briefly “Sole Big V.”

Albert Sole died in January of 1976, leaving a wife and three children.

Like many of the men and women who lived through the Great Depression and later helped build Sarnia, he was a gentle soul with a strong work ethic.

Sole the Druggist is no more, but its gentleman proprietor has not been forgotten.

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