I originally published this blog post on April 22, 2011, on my old blog, Brownfoot Journal. After reading a similar story on OttawaStart, I was reminded of my story and wanted to share it again, only I closed access to the Brownfoot Journal more than a year ago. So here it is again, on The Brown Knowser, for those of you who haven't read it before.
Want more information about the CIVIC Pharmacy? Check out The Margins of History.
It all started with Twitter.
As some of you know, I follow Twitter. A lot. Sometimes, too much. After all, I do suffer from FMS Syndrome*.
Last week, I let myself be distracted by a photo, tweeted by a fellow Ottawa blogger, Andrea Tomkins. Her photo showed a famous, though obscure, Ottawa landmark: a sign on a building at the intersection of Carling and Holland Avenues. This sign:
I immediately recognized the sign. It has been on this building for as long as I can remember. And so, when I saw Andrea's picture, I thought that I would add a comment to her picture. I told her that I had a recollection that at some point, the CIVIC letters actually turned on their posts. I wasn't sure: I just had some childhood memory.
Andrea responded to my comment, telling me that she wasn't sure if the letters had turned, but that it would be cool if it were true (not that she was accusing me of making it up). A conversation ensued, in which I said that yes, I was pretty sure that sometime in the 70s, I saw those letters turn. I added that I suspected the letters stopped turning in the 80s. But I couldn't be certain. And then Andrea pulled in another tweep, OttawaStart.
As great and tuned-in as the folks at OttawaStart are on issues concerning our fair city, the tweet they provided shed no light. Another tweep, who was in Ottawa in the 70s, also seemed to support my claim, but wasn't sure. And so I took this on as a personal quest to get the answer.
But not right away. I have a full-time job, a couple of books on the go, this blog, and two young kids that deserve the bulk of my time. And so it wasn't until last Friday that I was able to act on this quest.
I started by looking for the building owner, but didn't find much information through Google. Just a couple of numbers for businesses in the building. And so I struck off and headed to the building (I wanted to go there anyway, because I wanted to take my own photos of the sign, and last Friday was a gorgeous day). What I learned was that the owner had no office in the building. But one of the tenants had the phone number for the building manager and was very helpful in passing the number on to me. Unfortunately, calls to the manager were unreturned. The gentleman who provided the building manager's number also suggested that I talk to the folks in the pharmacy itself, because it had been in the building for a long time. The pharmacy, though, was closed when I made my visit.
When I called the pharmacy on Monday, I spoke to the pharmacist, who informed me that he had taken over the pharmacy only a couple of years ago and didn't know the history of the building. But he did offer a glimmer of hope: one of his employees had worked in the pharmacy for a number of years, and she may know the answer to the sign. Unfortunately, she wasn't in that day. She would be in Tuesday. I said I'd call back then.
Well, I did say that I have a full-time job, and I was busy on Tuesday. And so I didn't get a chance to call the pharmacy before it closed for the day. And when I called on Wednesday, the pharmacist told me that my contact, Betty, didn't work on Wednesdays. "I thought you were going to call yesterday," he said. I was, I told him, but I got busy. My next opportunity to reach Betty was Thursday.
And so I called on Thursday, and Betty answered the phone. I promised not to take too much of her time, and so I only asked a few questions. She was, after all, busy. She was working.
Betty had worked at the pharmacy for 30 years or so. Perfect.
Did the letters on the sign ever turn? Yes. The letters were designed to rotate when the sign was built and they did so until the late 70s, possibly later. In fact, not only did they revolve on their posts but they also lit up at night. At some point, the letters stopped turning and the owner had them fixed. But then they stopped working again and it was determined that they could no longer be repaired; either by lack of the right parts, total fatigue, or some other reason that Betty was not sure of.
I also asked Betty if she knew the age of the building itself. She said that she thought it was built in 1959, but again wasn't certain.
But I did, at least, have the answer I sought. This landmark sign did, in fact, rotate. And, as a bonus, it even lit up.
And my memory was intact.
My thanks to Andrea, for providing the photo that sparked the memory and dialogue, to OttawaStart, for joining in the conversation, and to Betty Eady for helping me with my quest.
* FMS: Fear of Missing Something