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Montreal Pharmacy

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By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca

 

Charles Edouard Duquette, founder of what was going to be the “Pharmacy Montreal”, interrupted his studies in pharmacy to participate in the First World War of 1914-1918, when he treated sick and wounded soldiers on ships making the London-New York crossing. He resuming his pharmaceutical studies at the end of the war, and received his diploma in 1918.

 

Montreal Pharmacy - ca 1935
Montreal Pharmacy – ca 1935

On May 10, 1923, Charles opened the “Montreal Pharmacy”, a small drug store on the corner of St. Catherine and Beaudry, which would become the most famous pharmacy in the world. Based on what his father, also a pharmacist, used to say, that Quebec drug stores were exploiting customers by selling drugs too expensive, Charles decided to sell at discount prices, and offering specials. He would give customers apples, butter or sugar in return for their spending on pharmacy products. His pharmacy was the first to offer cosmetic products, such as make-up and perfumes to its clients. Charles Duquette was also the first to sell drugs at discount price to smaller pharmacists, who would then sell them to their clients at fair retail price. Among them was a pharmacist named Jean Coutu. In 1926, Montreal Pharmacy started a free motorcycle delivery service. In 1927, the business moved to new premises on the corner of St. Catherine and Amherst, where in 1931, a “night service” started, making the Montreal Pharmacy the only one in Canada with a 24-hour, seven days a week service, including free delivery service within 25 kilometers from the City. At one time, the pharmacy had 57 delivery vans and 132 employees.

 

On November 9, 1934, Charles Duquette moved his pharmacy to a new five story building at 916, St. Catherine East. It was designed in the Art-Deco style by Montreal architect Raoul Gariépy, and built by J.L. Guay & Frères. Among the 300+ invited guests attending the inauguration were Montreal Mayor Camillien Houde, his wife, and senators Guillaume-André Fauteux and Arthur Marcotte. Over the years, the Montreal Pharmacy catered to people from all walks of life, including Mayor Houde, members of the Cotroni family, Sarto Fournier, prostitutes, and men, who would buy expensive perfumes as gifts for their favorite ladies of the Bellevue Casino on Ontario Street. Some of the girls would sell the perfume back to the pharmacy at a discounted price.

 

Montreal Pharmacy-2016
Montreal Pharmacy-2016

The Montreal Pharmacy, being open round the clock (which continued until 1973), had no locks on its doors. In the early 1940s, it became the first building in the country to have automatic doors installed. In 1950, Charles’ son, Jean-Paul Duquet (his last name is spelled wrong because of an error made on his baptismal records) became his partner.  “Duquette & Duquet” hired students during the summer to serve as tour guides to local and foreign tourists, showing them the five floors of merchandise including the laboratory in the basement.

 

The Montreal Pharmacy, being open round the clock (which continued until 1973), had no locks on its doors. In the early 1940s, it became the first building in the country to have automatic doors installed. In 1950, Charles’ son, Jean-Paul Duquet (his last name is spelled wrong because of an error made on his baptismal records) became his partner.  “Duquette & Duquet” hired students during the summer to serve as tour guides to local and foreign tourists, showing them the five floors of merchandise including the laboratory in the basement.

 

Charles died of lung cancer in 1966, and Jean-Paul took over as manager of the business. Over the years it became more and more difficult to find employees, who wanted to work at night, and in 1975 a regular daytime schedule started. In 1969, Jean Coutu, founder of the Jean Coutu Group, opened a discount pharmacy in Montreal with his associate Louis Michaud. They innovated in the retail sector with a large array of products, high-quality professional services and longer store-opening hours. In 1973, the success of the “Jean Coutu Discount Pharmacies”, having already five branches in the Montreal area, prompted the establishment of a franchise system, a concept inspired by Charles E. Duquette. Pharmacie Montréal became the first franchise of the Jean Coutu Group and its sixth branch of the chain, employing 250 people. In 1985, Jean-Paul Duquet sold the business to Jean Coutu.

 

Today the building houses several ground-level stores and offices on the upper floors

 

 

Source: Art Deco Mtl / La Presse / Pharmacie Jean-Coutu / Coolopolis / Ville de Montréal

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