Community Papers

Erie’s pioneer pharmacist

Second of two parts

Although the ghost town of Erie was home to several notable and longtime residents such as Olaf Haglund and Joe and Hattie Read, today we’ll focus on its druggist, James Robert Hunnex.

Born in 1854 in England, Hunnex earned a degree in pharmacy and lived at Los Angeles and San Francisco before arriving in Victoria around 1894. Something lured him to West Kootenay and he established a drug store on Dewdney Avenue in Trail.

He moved to Waterloo — now lower Ootischenia — to operate its drug store and post office in 1897-98, then went to Erie, where he opened a store and pharmacy that dealt in groceries, work clothing, hardware, and mining and logging supplies.

In The Early Salmo Story (recently reprinted in full as part of Salmo Stories), Rollie Mifflin wrote that Hunnex “was known far and wide as a person capable of filling any prescriptions at any time of day or night. Miners and lumberjacks came to him for relief from a hangover. They got it.” He also provided birth control.

No photos of Hunnex seem to exist, but Mifflin describes him thusly: “He was an educated, refinished Englishman, slight of build, with thin, sandy-coloured hair combed into a pompadour. A thin, scraggly mustache seemed to be trying without much success to cover his upper lip.”

He lived above the store with his wife Sarah, whom Mifflin said was “physically and culturally” her husband’s opposite, and they employed a “husky, red-haired Englishman” as clerk.

One day, just before the daily train arrived, Mrs. Hunnex informed her husband she was running off with the clerk. “It is said that he kissed her goodbye, offered his hopes for her future happiness and, who knows, maybe thanked his Lord that the train now about to pass would take her away forever. It did.”

In addition to minding the store, Hunnex was postmaster, justice of the peace, and mining recorder, although as Erie’s fortunes declined, even these extra roles failed to keep him busy. He devoted his spare time to chess and checkers.

Hunnex once belonged to the London Chess Club and participated in a multi-player telegraph match between Victoria and San Francisco. He repeated the feat in a match between Nelson and Spokane that began at 8 p.m. and lasted until 4 a.m., resulting in a draw. Hunnex was honourary vice-president of the BC Chess Federation in 1916.

After fire wiped out his store in 1932, he decided to retire, but two years later built Salmo’s first brick block and went back into business.

Hunnex died in 1938 at 85 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Salmo. His store, which still bears his name across the facade, is now the Dragonfly Cafe.

“It will remind us who were his friends of the substance of the man who was James R. Hunnex,” Mifflin wrote. “It will outlast all of us who knew and respected him.”

This story will appear in the West Kootenay Advertiser on February 28.

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