Estor (Somers) Laidlaw




Life and Work

Estor Somers was born in Edmonton on June 17, 1916 and lived in Tofield with her parents until they moved to Wetaskiwin in April 1922, after her father bought out the drug stores owned by Mr. Higgs.

As Estor recalls, there were three lots in all, with the house being on Stanley Street. There was an old barn with two stalls and a hayloft on the lot immediately north of the house. Later, Dr. Janzen built a house on that lot and the third lot west of the barn, with a garage on the northeast corner, kitty comer from the park. All was surrounded by a high board fence except for the southern part of the house lot. The whole thing made for a wonderful playground for children. Estor had a merry-go-round on the barn lot and a playhouse built in the shelter of two big Manitoba Maples on the long street side of the third lot. Many a tea party was served in the shelter of those trees and many a bump occurred when someone fell off the merry-go-round, not to mention the great adventures she had as a kid exploring the dark corners of the barn. Estor's father eventually had to let the backlots go for taxes when Estor grew beyond the need of such a playground.

Estor started Grade 1 in the old parish hall with Mrs. Walker as teacher. It was a rather dreary building, with nothing 'bright or beautiful' in sight. Some classmates were Violet Parker, Nellie Bidinger, Ivy Baldry, Bill Odell, Vincent Cole, and Dudley Orr. They used the old brown covered Alexandra Reader. Estor kept her copy as it spoke to the modern way - she never did find a Grade 1 student who could read it.

It was a relief to go to the big Alexandra School the following year. Not that it was a very cheerful place, but she attended classes there for several years. For Grades 6 and 7 all those living west of the railroad tracks had to go to the King Edward School on the east side. "Even using all the shortcuts we could devise, it was a long way to go home for lunch, especially in winter, and when your parents refused you crossing the tracks anywhere but at the main crossing on Pearce St., except for the business section of town all sidewalks were wooden. They were fine for playing hopscotch and other games on, but not so nice to fall on. Many a splinter was plucked from knees, elbows, hands and various other parts of children's anatomies from those sidewalks. You had to be careful when you ran on them, for fear of stubbing your toes and suddenly finding yourself flat on your face. Wherever anyone could figure out a short-cut across a vacant lot there usually was one. Most were quicker and quite safe unless you encountered a cow or some similar 'wildlife' tethered part way across one."

It was great in winter when everyone who could round up a pair of skates made use of the old open rink, whatever the weather. Estor held fond memories of how wonderful it was to thaw her toes and fingers around the old stove between skates. What luxury when the town finally built a covered rink!

As Estor recalls, "We did try to get a swimming pool built. The Kiwanis Club sponsored a drive to fund one - circa 1930 - and we all took part in a parade, with floats and bands and everything! The Northern Drug sponsored a float made like a huge galley. There were about a dozen pretty, older teenagers as rowers in it and because I was the boss's daughter I got to be a somewhat younger coxswain. Our best efforts were in vain as it was not until around 1950 that Wetaskiwin got its first pool. The Depression and later the War put a crimp in all such frivolities. A date would maybe consist of going to a show on Friday night followed by lunch at the old Driard coffee shop. The show would cost 25 cents each, and you could have toast, a fruit sundae, and coffee all for another 25 cents each. Thus by spending $1 a boy would treat once a week from his total wage of $5 a week clerking in one of the stores. Or we could double date at one of the homes and learn to play bridge or dance to the music of one of the big bands on radio. On Sundays if there was snow then we'd ski out to Peace Hill, make a fire to heat our lunch, and try to ski the rest of the afternoon. Then home for supper - on Sundays."

"There was a minimum of extra-curricular school activities. Basketball was practiced at noon hours, and games always seemed to conflict with my piano lessons. Softball was played on the two vacant lots across from the school. My luck held for the scheduling of it too, so I played little of it. Golf you were on your own, and a few of us would rise early enough to play from 4 to 7 holes before school. Swimming was mostly done at the lake (Pigeon) if you were lucky enough to belong to a family that owned a cottage, and a Mother willing to spend most of the summer out there. Husbands and visitors were at the mercy of weather and roads. There were Guides and Boy Scouts too. I belonged to the former. Dorothy Peart was my Patrol Leader, Mary Rasmusson the Company Leader and Eva Walker the Captain. I joined in 1928 and dropped out in Grade XI. Mrs. Palfrey rounded up a few girls that had also dropped out and organized us into the 1st Cat Rangers (not only in Wetaskiwin but also 1st in the Province). This group supplied and trained the girls as Leader for the Guide Company and Brownie Pack for a number of years. I remember that Lorraine Sorenson and myself worked together helping Brownies for a short time and then later helping, eventually taking over as Leaders from Marjorie Robinson in Guides."

During the Depression of the 1930s unemployment flourished. Estor had dreams of pursuing the study of fashion design in the United States but, since the course she yearned to take was unavailable in Alberta, her father suggested, with the support of her mother, that she take up Pharmacy first and then pursue her dream if she still wanted to at a later time when conditions were improved. Estor heeded her father's advice and registered as his apprentice in 1933 and worked with her father over the next three years.

Estor Laidlaw, Graduation picture from the Pharmacy program, University of Alberta, May 1938Estor recalls her apprenticeship period as one of "lots of learning, long hours, and low pay." Her father had apprenticed and got his papers under the Northwest Territories, and the University of Alberta did not exist until 1912. He had started out in 1905 with old Mr. Cowles on Whyte Avenue in Strathcona. He did everything including making ink and suppositories for 5 years and then took his exams. At that time, he was one of the rare few in the province to hold such a diploma. By the time that Estor began her apprenticeship, you had to apprentice for 3 years and spend 2 years at University in order to obtain a Diploma. As Estor remembers, "It was a proud day when I went off to the University of Alberta in the fall of 1936, and a prouder one when I graduated on May 13, 1938, at 21 yrs of age."

She continued to work in the Northern Drug, except for a couple of brief periods until she married Stuart Laidlaw in November of 1943. The newly weds lived in Merritt, British Columbia for the first two years, where they had a son. They returned to Wetaskiwin in late 1945, and the following spring went to Winfield where Stuart had the Imperial Agency.

In late 1948 Stuart went to work in Devon following the discovery of oil. In the meantime, Estor's father had opened the drugstore in Devon in November of the same year. Estor went to Devon in September 1949 to provide relief for her father, who had not been able to take any time off in over a year. She also stayed to help her mother get settled into their new home. Estor's mother was in the new house for only a week when she had a fatal stroke. Estor and her husband were looking for a place of their own, but her father asked them to move in with him. They did, and continued to live there for the rest of their lives.

Estor's father had a stroke in 1966 and another fatal one in 1970. Estor ran the store alone while he was ill and operated a year on her own after his death. She sold the business in 1972 as arthritis had necessitated a second hip replacement. Following a successful operation, Estor continued to do relief work in other stores around the county for a number of years.

In 1988, on her 72nd birthday, Estor was honored in Kananaskis at the Pharmacy Convention as a 50 year member of the Alberta Pharmaceutical Association. That also marked her official retirement from Pharmacy. On her retirement, Estor notes, "As I have lived and breathed pharmacy all my life I still maintain an interest in it. To my way of thinking, Mr. Klein 's changes have thrown a wet blanket on this profession and I'm glad now to be out of it actually. I'll never forget the satisfaction of compounding a prescription from scratch though, or of dressing windows to display and sell goods, the pleasure of serving and helping customers with their problems, and the whole concept of pharmacy in those early days. It was a good profession to be in, although I do think that the men were very slow in believing that a woman could do it!"