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Geens History

Providing a professional service for over 180 years

The history of Geen’s Pharmacy goes back a long way.
Over 180 years. It is the oldest continually operating drugstore in Ontario.

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In 1833, when Belleville was a small village with a population less than 2000, the ‘Hastings Times’, dated April 20th, reported that A.M. Sheldon, Druggist and Apothecary, had drugs and medicines for sale. Sheldon sold the store to Dr. R. Holden in 1835 who ran the company until Albert Geen purchased the business October 2,1871. The store has continued under the Geen name as an independent family business for over 145 years, totaling five generations.

Albert Geen received a license to practice as a pharmaceutical chemist in the same year the Ontario College of Pharmacy was founded. A religious man, he was ordained a minister in 1885. Besides his retail business, Albert carried on a successful wholesale business ranging from Kingston to Colborne, and from Lake Ontario to 100 miles north of Belleville. A younger brother, Samuel, helped in the wholesale part of the business travelling by horse and buggy to deliver and pick up orders from their wholesale customers.

In addition to the compounding of prescriptions and retailing of patent medicines, pills and lotions, the business carried coal-oil, lamps and accessories for lamps, window glass imported from Belgium, paint and oils. At onetime Albert Geen was President of the Retail Merchants Association of Canada.

Percival Geen began working for his father at the age of eight delivering coal-oil, filling capsules, grinding powders and running errands. Percival graduated from Ontario College of Pharmacy in 1907. During his 70 years as a pharmacist he had several memories of his life in the store. He recalled the times when narcotics could be sold without a written prescription, when the store made its own pills, tinctures, essences and sedlitz powders (once popular as a laxative), when Swansdown Flour was the main cosmetic for young ladies, and that Geen’s was the first pharmacy to introduce sanitary napkins in Belleville – they sold for $1.00. In those days the “back shop” of the dispensary was furnished with 333 drawers of bulk chemicals and botanicals.

All these drawers were labeled using Latin names.  He also recalled he was paid $15.00 a week in 1914. Prescriptions had to be compounded and a dollar for a prescription was considered a very high price. By 1941 Percival Geen was the sole proprietor of Geen’s Drug Store.

Alwyn Geen, like his father, began working in the pharmacy at a young age. Alwyn attended the Ontario College of Pharmacy in Toronto graduating in 1941 with a degree of Bachelor of Pharmacy. In 1942 he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was Navigator during World War II. After the war the business was incorporated under the title Geen Drugs Limited.

At the death of his father, Alwyn assumed control of the family business. The major change that Alwyn saw during his life time as a pharmacist was the advent of computers in the pharmacy. Gone were the days of recording prescriptions by hand in ledgers and the typing of prescription labels.  In 1971 Percival and Alwyn received two recognitions from the Ontario College of Pharmacy. One award for 100 years of continually operating a Pharmacy and a second award for having 100 years of Pharmacy Practice by a family

geens pharmacy belleville
geens pharmacy belleville

Again, like his grandfather and father before him David Geen started working in the store while in school. After graduating from university he joined the family business and became the 4th generation of Geen to manage the long established company. With the help of his father and three sisters David moved the business further into the community by opening a second store at 305 North Front Street in 1977 and a third store in 1987 at 150 Sidney Street.

In the past century and a half there have been many locations of the drugstore in downtown Belleviile. The original location of A. M. Sheldon’s drugstore is not known but the four locations of Dr. Holden’s are. The first location was 184 Front Street, then In 1859 the “Victoria Building” on the north east corner of Front and Hotel Street (now Victoria Avenue). Soon afterward 298-300 Front Street and then after a disastrous fire December 16,1865 the “Cronk Block” on the south east corner of Front and Victoria Avenue

A fire in 1887 burnt out the “Cronk Block” and Albert Geen, now the owner, moved across to 300 Front Street. In October 1896, after that building was also damaged by fire, Albert moved to 280 Front Street where it remained until 1941 when Percival Geen purchased the building at 276-278 Front Street. Geen Drug Store remained at 276 Front Street until the retail location was closed in 2002. The building at 276 Front Street is still occupied by Geen’s and used as an office and warehouse.

The downtown Belleville and Sidney Street locations are now closed, but after more than 180 years, Geen’s still serves the community under the Geen’s Pharmasave name from one location, 305 North Front Street. For forty years Rita, the pharmacy manager, and the hundreds of staff who have worked in the North Front store continue the tradition that was established so long ago “YOU CAN DEPEND ON US”.

Today Geens offers our customers technology that could never have been imagined in 1833. Prescription refills can be requested by email or app. There is a Rewards Card program.  We do flu shots, sell myDNA kits and now have this website.

geens pharmacy belleville