Friday, 14 March 2014

HIStory & HERitage: Angus Sutherland

                               HIStory & HERitage

Unlike Thickwood or Timberlea, where many of the streets are named according to a specific theme, most of the streets in the downtown area of Fort McMurray are named after people who are significant to the history of the region. 

Have you ever wondered who was the inspiration for Manning Ave or Morimoto Drive? What about Sutherland Street, the side street off of Franklin Ave where the Podollan Inn & Rez is located? Have you ever wondered who Sutherland was?

Angus Sutherland was the first druggist in Fort McMurray. He was born in Ontario in the 1890s, but attained his education in Manitoba. Following graduation, Angus worked for the Northern Transportation Company’s water transportation division in Athabasca Landing. You can see Angus Sutherland in the 1916 Census of Alberta here where he is listed as working as a purser, or the person responsible for handling money, on a steam boat.

In the winter of 1918, Angus was sent to Fort McMurray for business. At this time, soldiers were beginning to return home from the battlefields of the First World War.  These men unknowingly brought with them the Spanish Flu, a deadly virus that became a global pandemic.  When this flu made its way to Fort McMurray, Angus immediately began to stockpile medical supplies, even treating people at no cost if they could not afford to pay his fees.  

Realizing that the growing community needed a pharmacy, Angus opened a small drug store inside the Franklin Hotel. This business venture was so successful that it needed a larger space. In 1922, Angus opened a new pharmacy, Sutherland Drugs, in a two storey frame building. The pharmacy served as both a drug store as well as a library, the first in Fort McMurray.  Membership to the library cost one dollar and the borrowing fee for each book was twenty-five cents.

Suffering from ill health, Angus asked Walter Hill, a recent graduate, to help with the pharmacy business. In 1922 Walter arrived in Fort McMurray and became Angus’ partner. However, in 1934 a major fire destroyed most of the businesses along the west side of Franklin Avenue, including Sutherland Drugs. Amazingly, the store was rebuilt within 30 days and even refitted with wiring for electricity. 

In this photo, Angus Sutherland is sitting on the left and Walter Hill is seated on the right. Photo courtesy of the Fort McMurray Historical Society.

Four years later, in 1938, Angus opened two Sutherland Drugs: one in Waterways along Railway Avenue and another in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. This expansion earned Angus the title the "Pharmacist of the North”. 

After serving the community for over 20 years, Angus died in Fort McMurray on May 31, 1951. With his death, Walter Hill became the sole owner of the business and he renamed the Fort McMurray store Hill Drugs.  Walter Hill died in 1986 and his pharmacy continued to operate until 1988. The Hill family tradition of pharmacy service continues to this day with Dave Hill Pharmacy in Thickwood (Dave is Walter’s grandson).  

Following its closure, the Sutherland Drugs/Hill Drugs building was donated to Heritage Park. It currently houses the museum’s main displays about the fur trade, river transportation, the railway and of course, the pharmacy itself. 


  1. Sutherland was not the first pharmacist or 'druggist' here. According to 'Paddlewheels to Bucketwheels', he was the second.

  2. Thank you for your comment and for your interest in this blog post. There seems to be conflicting views regarding whether or not Angus Sutherland was the first official pharmacist or druggist in Fort McMurray. While the source you referenced states that Sutherland was the second pharmacist in town, the book "Doing What’s Best for Kids- The Fort McMurray Public School District No. 2833: 1912-2012" describes Sutherland as “Fort McMurray’s first pharmacist and local historian” on page 29. This book was written by John Gilpin, Ph.D, author and historian, who has studied and written extensively about the history of Alberta.
    Unfortunately, it can be difficult to ascertain many aspects of Fort McMurray’s history as there is a limited number of primary sources in the local archives and many of the local history books are memoirs or are based on other peoples’ memories.
    Thank you again for your comment.