Walter Douglas Allan: Pharmacist. Numismatist. Cloud watcher. Collector. Born July 30, 1933, in Toronto; disappeared July 18, 2017, in Quebec, now presumed dead; aged 84.
It only made sense that Walt would serve as unofficial guardian of our family history. A lifelong pack-rat, he kept everything – old car keys, expired calendars, every single sales receipt; a butterfly collection started as a child and, literally, thousands of photos of clouds he’d snapped with his little red Nikon.
Like many born during the Great Depression, Walt could not throw anything away. At the end of his life, he had 11 alarm clocks in his small home. A few of them even worked.
From childhood until retirement, Walter worked at Allan’s Drug Store, the Lake Shore Boulevard pharmacy that his parents purchased in 1939. Even as a kid, he knew everyone in the town of Bronte, Ont., (now part of Oakville) – with thanks to his Globe and Mail paper route. Open even on Christmas Day, pharmacy hours always informed the timing of the turkey dinner.
His father, Donald, served as druggist, councilman, school trustee and volunteer fireman. With two brothers and a sister, Walt grew up with the town of Bronte and became its greatest champion.
A graduate of the pharmacy school at the University of Toronto, Walter took over dispensing duties after his father died in 1974. He worked alongside his mother until the late 1980s when they sold the family business during the rise of the drugstore chains.
Walt was an exuberant collector of stamps and coins, but also rocks, marbles, maps, pharmacy paraphernalia, seashells, cameras and, especially, anything connected to Bronte’s roots. In 1988, he spearheaded a campaign to save the Sovereign House, a heritage home that would become a showcase of local history.
Around that time, Walter left his hometown to live in an isolated cottage on the shores of Lake Huron, about three-and-a-half hours north. The local Oakville paper wrote a feature on his departure. He was asked why he was leaving his home of 59 years. “Bronte isn’t here any more,” he said of a harbour community transformed by townhomes and luxury condos.
Walt did not marry or have children, but he delighted nieces and nephews with birthday cards and parcels that arrived plastered in postage of all denominations and a handwritten appeal: “COLLECT STAMPS!” His oddball offerings included unopened geodes, polished gemstones, Happy Meal toys in original packaging, and maybe a DVD featuring the latest voyage of the Starship Enterprise.
By far his greatest passion was for collecting and cataloguing paper money, rare banknotes and vignettes. A distinguished expert, he led the Canadian Paper Money Society from 1993 to 1995 and was later named an honorary president.
In July, 2017, he left his Tobermory home for the annual gathering of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association in Boucherville, Que. He never made it. Walter’s car was later found abandoned in a farmer’s field an hour east of the convention. Police searched for days. They ended their investigation several months later, though he was never found.
He leaves behind an older brother, a younger sister, nieces, nephews and their children. So now we are the safe-keepers of family history, and this story of Walter is just the first of many we will tell.
Susan Allan is Walter’s niece.
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