The James J. O’Mara Pharmacy Museum is housed in Apothecary Hall, home to the Peter O’Mara Drug Store from 1922 to 1986. In 1922, Peter O’Mara 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 and Brennan Street.
The building is the last remnant of the urban commercial street scape of Water Street West. Its architecture is a form of Art Noveau and Art Deco amalgam, and is particularly interesting because of its exterior decoration.
The focal point of the museum is a set of antique drug store fixtures, constructed of oak in England in 1879. They were brought to St. John’s the same year and installed in the drug store of M. Connors Limited Wholesale and Retail Druggists on Water Street at Queen Street. When this firm moved to a new location, the fixtures were sold to Donald Hogan and came into the possession of the former Newfoundland Pharmaceutical Association when Hogan’s Drug Store closed in 1975.
These fixtures are currently stocked with many of the medications found in drug stores just before the turn of the 20th century. Many of the actual medications can be seen in “shop bottles” used to hold the various liquids and powders. An ornate “show globe”, denoting the practice of pharmacy, made in New York in 1900, can be seen through the front window of the museum.
Throughout the museum, examples of equipment used by pharmacists can be seen including mortars and pestles; glass graduates; a variety of dispensing scales with brass weights; pill making machines; brass suppository molds; glass ointment slabs; cork presses; and label dispenser. A display of patent medicines can be seen, some reputedly to cure almost any illness.
The restoration of this heritage site was undertaken by the pharmacists of Newfoundland and Labrador in order to preserve the history of the profession in the province. The property was designated a heritage building by the St. John’s Municipal Council and was given the status of a registered heritage structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Apothecary Hall has been widely recognized for its historical significance. In 1989, it was awarded the Southcott Award by the Newfoundland Historic Trust. The American Association of State and Local History presented the Apothecary Hall Trust with a Certificate of Commendation for the preservation of the history of pharmacy in Newfoundland and Labrador. The former Newfoundland Pharmaceutical Association (now the Newfoundland and Labrador Pharmacy Board) was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of St. John’s for setting up and maintaining Apothecary Hall. In 2009, the Historic Sites of Newfoundland and Labrador presented the James J. O’Mara Pharmacy Museum and the Apothecary Hall Trust with the Manning Award for recognition of excellence in public presentation of historic places.
Donations of pharmaceutical antiques, bottles, jars, advertisements, reference books, etc. would be gratefully accepted to add to the collection. Appropriate recognition will be given to any such donations.
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