Graham’s Pharmacy

We hope you’ve enjoyed this months daily dose of history. We have a couple more to tell before month end. Then, we’ll be out enjoying the spring.

This article about Graham’s Pharmacy from “More Big Hill Country” is one of the best stories of small town Cochrane. 

“Big Hill Country” was published in 2009. The story is presented here as it was printed.

In 1955 Bob and Alice Graham sold their home and furnishings in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, packed up their wedding presents, their two red cats and headed to Calgary. They had no idea what the future would hold for them. 

Bob was a pharmacist and Alice was a Registered Nurse. 

The Graham’s purchased Hart’s Drug Store in Cochrane, Alberta, a small town in cattle ranching country, located fifteen miles west of Calgary, Alberta on what was then the number 1 Highway. The pharmacy proved to be the closest thing to a first aid station or emergency ward for the people of Cochrane. The nearest doctors and hospitals were located in Calgary. 

When the new Trans-Canada highway was constructed in 1958 it was a blow to the Town of Cochrane as it would bypass all the communities until it joined the 1A Highway four miles outside of Banff, Alberta. 

The Graham’s chose to remain in Cochrane. They reduced the long hours they had been open from 9 am to 10 pm every day of the week, from 10 am to 6 pm and closed on Sundays and Wednesday afternoons. Most all of the businesses in Cochrane were closed on Wednesday afternoons at that time. 

Ice cream sales, which had been so brisk during the Hart’s time, decreased significantly and a big day for prescriptions never exceeded six to ten. Two-digit figures on the cash register were an everyday occurrence for nearly three years. Although business wasn’t booming their medical knowledge was being tested to the limit. 

The Graham’s had met Dewey Blaney when he was an employee of the Gordon Callaway. Dewey had at one time been a part-time policeman for the village. His job, as the Graham’s knew him, was the official town gravedigger. Periodically the job was too heavy for him so he hired Bert Lancons to help. Bert was never very good on his feet and one morning he fell into a grave, gashing his head. The grave had to be dug on time as Dewey was dedicated to his job. He packed newspapers on Bert’s head to soak up the blood and covered it tightly with a plastic vegetable bag, the only supplies available for such an emergency in Dewey’s tool shed at the cemetery. At noon they finished digging and walked the mile and a half into town to the pharmacy. 

When Alice carefully removed Bert’s skullcap, she was shocked to see another skullcap at least a half-inch thick of congealed blood with the classified section beautifully stamped on it. Underneath that layer was an exposed pumping bleeder. Bert was becoming quite pale so Alice replaced the dressing with pressure and moved them to the back yard, She served them lunch and coffee. They had to wait until 1 p.m. for Dr. John D. Milne to arrive. Dr. Milne did a good job of suturing and they all decided that printer’s ink was an excellent disinfectant! 

It was not unusual for Alice to be kept busy giving injections. The Graham’s boiled many needles and syringes for those who needed their services.

They also took blood pressures as many veterans preferred to stay rather than spend time at home rather than at the  Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary. 

The door-to-door and area gratis nursing, when they were called upon, was a challenge and fun but there were a few tragedies as well. 

The Graham’s also worked closely with the Cochrane RCMP. Early one morning Alice was lowered into a small gully near a small bridge in order to recover one local who had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car. He and his wife were returning from British Columbia when the accident occurred. The grateful gentleman and his wife supplied the Graham’s with fresh vegetables from their garden for many years to come. Alice was also paid for small favours with gifts of cream, eggs, chickens, preserves, cakes and plants. She said, “There is no amount of money could replace these gifts.” 

Cochrane’s two-man RCMP Detachment was also a two-bedroom home for Cpl. Len Clevette, his wife and their three children. 

In those days there was no mixed drinking allowed in Calgary bars so people travelled to Cochrane to the local hotel. Many ladies in distress were left on the streets of Cochrane by their companions. When the inebriated ladies passed out in the streets, Len would remove them with the help of passers-by either to the Graham’s living room or to the one cell which had been the third bedroom in the Clevette’s home. One time they picked up one girl, sobered her up in Graham’s living room and Len, in all good faith drove the girl to the city limits and let her out. Two days later in the “Albertan” newspaper Court News, the same lady’s name appeared. To the embarrassment of Len, she stated: “that the Cochrane people and the RCMP were much nicer to her than the City Police.” 

Over a period of two years, tabletop surgery was done in Graham’s home as Dr. Bill Prowse and Dr. Milne carried on many services. One evening a lad was brought in from a pipeline crew. His foot was severed from his leg. The foot was on the floor of the truck. Alice cleaned and bandaged the foot in place while waiting for the ambulance. They also notified the neral Hospital in Calgary. It was a sensational piece of surgery performed by a tremendous group of surgeons. The foot was saved! The patient walked into the store months later with a perfectly good foot. He had only lost two toes. 

Mount St. Francis also experienced Alice’s nursing skills. They made many emergency trips to the Munt. Brother David scalded his legs and feet badly when he was scalding butchered pigs in the fall. Alice did the dressings for him for 8 months.

Free deliveries were also the order of the day. One night the Graham’s were called out at 1 am during a storm to deliver a breach baby girl in the back seat of a car. This was Bob’s first experience at being a nurse’s assistant. There were no streetlights on the side of their premises to aid them in the delivery. The next delivery occurred at 10 am on Main Street. An Indian lady had just left Morley when nature produced a baby across the street from the pharmacy. The little papoose was named Alice by her mother. All went well except that a Chartered Greyhound bus of forty people was parked directly opposite them and all the people watched the entire performance. “Good nursing was a challenge in Cochrane”, said Alice. 

The Graham’s loved animals and many were abandoned on their doorstep. They managed to find homes for most of them but when they built their new pharmacy, they moved the cats into their new quarters which were especially designed for their nine extra permanent pets


CHAPS possesses Graham's sign

The new store, Graham’s Pharmacy Ltd. was unlike any other modern-day building. It was a two-storey cement block building; the second storey was the living quarters but it was the pharmacy itself that intrigued customers. It was as large as many chain stores but it had a pleasant mixture of antiques, Indian handicrafts and present-day inventory. 

Cliff and Ben Henry, bachelor brothers who ranched in the Bottrel area, raising Black Aberdeen Angus cattle, were good friends of Bob and Alice. The Henry Brothers knew that the Graham’s were planning on building a new and larger store. Alice and Bob had to promise them that they would build their new store to look old in order to make sure that the farmers would always feel welcome in their work clothes. In addition to this, they suggested that Graham’s preserve some of the artifacts of this district, which they did. 

When we moved into the new store in October 1962 Cliff and Ben arrived carrying two beautiful old framed pictures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert which their parents had brought to Alberta from the Maritimes in the 1880s. They also brought along an old English Enfield Rifle. The two portraits and the rifle graced the entrance of the pharmacy. Customers were encouraged to enjoy the casual atmosphere which prevailed. Stools and chairs were located near the counter and people enjoyed free cups of coffee and a short visit while their prescriptions and purchases are made. 

When health studies produced data in 1971 that smoking could be dangerous to their health, the Graham’s butted out. They also stopped carrying all tobacco products but their customers could still enjoy their own cigarettes while sipping their coffee. Bob maintained they never lost any business because of their decision. He always said “You can’t be curing them in the dispensary and poisoning them in the other end. It appears that Graham’s Pharmacy was somewhat ahead of its time in 1971. 

Due to health problems, Graham’s Pharmacy closed in 1989. Bob passed away but Alice still lives in her home with her beloved cats.

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