Valois drugstore, owner endure test of time

Marc Lalonde
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McDermott getting started on 60th year in business

On Sept. 1, 1953, A.J. McDermott opened his McDermotts pharmacy on Donegani Avenue in Pointe Claire. The recent Universite de Montreal graduate – he was in the same class as Jean Coutu -- was 22, and his wife cried when she saw the place because “she didn’t “want to live in the country.”

Last week, A.J. McDermott filled prescriptions in the store alongside his daughter, who was answering the phone, and his granddaughter, who was shepherding patients to and from the medical clinic he runs out of the back of the store.

In September, McDermott will begin his 60th year at the head of McDermott’s pharmacy, which has been an institution in the Valois section of Pointe Claire since it opened its doors when Louis St. Laurent was Prime Minister – and he’s seen the neighbourhood and city grow up around him.

“We used to sponsor baseball teams, and when they’d win a championship, they’d come in and get free sodas,” at the soda counter and luncheonette the store once held.

The soda counter is gone – the pharmacy is classified as a prescription-only store, so McDermott doesn’t even sell so much as a candy bar or pack of gum these days – but some things really haven’t.

“It’s the same as it’s ever been with (McDermott),” said his daughter, Wendy. “If you have a sick child and no money for antoibiotics, my father will help you. That’s just how he is. He has a big heart.”

McDermott, who still mans the pharmaceutical counter full-time – “what would he do, sit around the house? I don’t think so,” his daughter said – has rolled with the times since he opened. In 1978, he moved from the mall close by at 49 Donegani Ave.to his current location in the westernmost commercial building in Valois Village, about 100 feet east of where he first opened.

“In 1978, when (Rene) Levesque (and the Parti Quebecois) came in, we lost about 40 per cent of clientele, so I decided to give back to the community. I raised a family here, my three children grew up here, and I owned a business here. It was payback time, and so I opened the medical clinic,” where about 10 GPs and specialists see patients in five offices today.

The idea was revolutionary at the time.

“Back then, there was only the Lakeshore General Hospital, and there were no medical clinics at all. Now, they’re everywhere, but then there weren’t any anywhere,” Wendy McDermott said.

His longevity is legendary. His granddaughter, Alexandra Lalonde, tells the story of a customer in the neighbouring barber shop hearing the news that McDermott was still doling out medicine after so many years.

“My father was next door, and a man was in there was saying how he had once been a customer and he couldn’t believe my grandfather was still working there. He came in, took a look at my grandfather and went back into the barbershop, hollering ‘holy sh--! It’s the same guy!”

McDermott is a hunting and fishing enthusiast, and goes hunting every year with his grandson, but taking time off isn’t always high on the Dorval resident’s priority list.

“It’s a labour of love,” he said.

 

Organizations: Universite de Montreal, Parti Quebecois, Lakeshore General Hospital

Geographic location: Donegani Avenue, Valois Village

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  • Ed Jurick
    August 09, 2012 - 20:48

    It seems to me that pharmacists can make a very good living only on prescription drugs. This reminds me of gas station owners including Shell, Esso, etc. that would push gum and chocolate bars to survive when self-serve started. Not anymore. Sick people and thirsty motorists made other people wealthy . Just the same, I admire Mr. McDermott for his longevity and persistence. Hats off to you sir.