A Life's Story
August 04, 2023
Thompson trailblazer first female pharmacy owner
Anne Drapack, 81, built ‘life that she wanted’ over decades in North
By: Katie May
Six days a week for nearly 30 years, Anne Drapack worked 10- and 11-hour shifts at the helm of her own storefront as the first female pharmacy owner in Manitoba.
In Thompson, where she made her home for 38 years, Drapack was something of a pioneer. She had no interest in being recognized as such.
“She thought it was not a big accomplishment,” son John Drapack says. “I thought it was tremendous; back in the ’50s and ’60s, it was very rare for women to be in pharmacy at all, and then to be a business person on top of it, never mind in a small town, where it’s quite difficult to set up a store.”
“She didn’t need any accolades,” daughter Kim McIvor says. “She was going to get s—t done. She was going to create a life that she wanted, and both she and my dad did that together.”
Thompson was a still-developing mining town when Anne Drapack, her husband Jack, and their young family arrived in the late 1960s.
Before she died at 81, at her residence in Victoria, in February 2022, she’d been retired and living on the West Coast for almost 20 years. But she still referred to Thompson as her home.
The Winnipeg-born Anne Bilous graduated with a degree in pharmacy from the University of Manitoba in spring 1962. Five months later, she married her high school sweetheart and, after Jack graduated from law school in 1969, they moved to the North.
With her fierce independence and unmatched work ethic, Drapack built the life she and her family wanted.
Anne’s Pharmacy was in a mall on Thompson Drive, a short walk from the children’s school. John, Kim and Maeve would walk over for lunch, eating sandwiches with their mom in the back office, in between her tending to customers and managing the postal outlet.
Despite the workload, Drapack was a calm, steady presence. By the time she was ready to retire in 2003, she had a loyal clientele extensive enough for a large chain to buy her out for a fair offer.
“I can always remember as a kid, because I worked there for her in the summertime, that there were always her regulars that would come in,” says Kim.
“They would come back, have a coffee, and have a chat with her. And there was always something comical going on with these characters.”
When she opened the pharmacy, Jack worked as a lawyer and made dinner and taxied the kids to after school activities. They weren’t old-fashioned about division of household labour.
“It was a team effort, and I loved that about my parents. It was a great thing for us kids to see how a household should be run. Everybody’s a partner,” John says.
That attitude served them well beyond home life.
As a pharmacist and lawyer in a growing community of young families (Thompson gained city status in 1970), the couple was often meeting newcomers and inviting them over for dinner, telling them the story of how they’d planned to be there for only a year or two, and ended up deciding to stay.
They built a cottage at Setting Lake, quite literally breaking their own trail in. Every summer weekend, Drapack would drive up Saturday night, spend a glorious Sunday, and then be back at the pharmacy Monday morning.
“It was a collective effort to build that town, and my parents were definitely a part of that,” John says.
In that time, Jack became a partner at his law firm, and then a judge. He served on the provincial court in Thompson for 20 years. Jack died in 2018.
“She really, really loved my dad, and she really respected him a lot, as he did her,” Kim says.
The Drapacks were “quintessential Thompsonites,” say long-time friends and provincial court judges Malcolm and Theresa McDonald.
“We can’t think of one without thinking of the other,” the McDonalds say in a joint statement. “They were devoted to each other and to their kids and grandkids. They were both rightly proud of their Ukrainian heritage and spoke with emotion and pride of their time visiting in Ukraine.
“We will always miss them.”
Jack and Anne grew up in Winnipeg’s North End. They met at Isaac Newton School and started dating in Grade 11 and 12.
She had a happy childhood, and Drapack didn’t think of herself as poor, her two eldest children say, but she didn’t have much growing up. As a teen, she’d bike to babysitting jobs and contribute her earnings to the family budget.
Both her parents immigrated from Ukraine at a time when Canada’s immigration policy permitted indentured labourers to cultivate farmland.
“Lots of her family came over that way. They had nothing, really, when they started out in Winnipeg,” John says.
Drapack learned English in kindergarten and retained her Ukrainian language. She knew her way around homemade perogies and cabbage rolls, but when she became a grandmother, she wasn’t comfortable thinking of herself as “baba.”
“My mom was very different than your typical Ukrainian baba of the old days,” Kim says. “She was just very independent and very driven.”
But when Kim’s son Scott was born, Drapack’s fourth grandchild, Kim decided it was time to embrace the title. She began coaching her not-quite-two-year-old to say the word until he was ready for a spontaneous reveal.
“I just kind of walked him into the back dispensary… She just looked right at him and he went, ‘Baba!’ She was like, ‘You’re in so much trouble, Kim.’ We laughed about it and talked about it right up until she passed,” Kim says with a chuckle. “After that, she was always called baba.”
Work was Drapack’s comfort zone. She attributed where she got to in life — her own business, lakeside cottage, winter home in Texas and retirement in B.C. — more to hard work than anything else.
“If you do the work, you can get through it. Persistence was her main thing in everything in life. Stick with it, that’s what she’d always tell the kids. Keep your head down and do your hardest work, and rewards will come your way,” John says.
Drapack died following a difficult two-year battle with cancer. Before she was diagnosed, she believed she had a lot of life still ahead of her, her children say. She kept fit, and only quit jogging at age 75.
“It’s a real void for her not to be around, because she’s always had that strength behind her, which you could always feel as a daughter. It’s something that you miss when it’s gone. She wouldn’t say too much, but you could always feel that… strength,” Kim says.
“She really loved life, right up until the end.”
— with files from Kevin Rollason