“Drop in and say goodbye to our dear Doctor John” the poster says — and drop in they did, with cheers, tears and many good wishes for Dr. John Farrer, who ministered to the Sunshine Coast for the past 37 years.
On Nov. 2 Farrer saw his last official patient in Pender Harbour. He’s off to England to spend time with his 91-year-old father while there’s still the opportunity to do so. It doesn’t take many minutes in the doctor’s presence to realize that he leaves with a heavy heart.
“I’m not just sailing out to have a great time. I’m going for a reason,” he shared just before his farewell shindig on Oct. 31. “I’m going to miss so many people.”
For a man whose arrival on the Coast was a series of serendipitous happenings, Farrer has deep connections to our part of the world.
He completed his medical education in England and soon realized that to complete his residency there would mean another two years, “more slave labour for the British medical system,” he said.
After doing some research, he discovered he could come to the Newfoundland University, take an exam and then be licensed in Canada. After he did so, he worked for Newfoundland Cottage Hospitals for two years. Then he did what many around him were doing and headed west.
“I packed up my Chevy Blazer and headed out,” Farrer said.
Once on the West Coast, he signed up with a service placing new doctors in different communities. His first stop was supposed to be Port Alberni. That’s when fate first turned in the Coast’s favour.
“I couldn’t get hold of the person in Port Alberni, so I called back [to the placing service].”
Forget Port Alberni, there’s a desperate need in Sechelt, the person told him. So he came here for a month. Next it was on to Northern Manitoba, which didn’t fare quite as highly in the doctor’s opinion as the West Coast.
“I came back to Gibsons in the fall and stayed,” he said.
He recalled his early days on the Coast.
“We just dealt with whatever came through the door. All of us GPs [general practitioners] did everything. I did anesthetics and obstetrics. I helped bring a lot of local people into the world. I see them at the grocery checkout or doing some great thing at university. When I came, there were a lot more young people. There was more logging with accidents, more car accidents. Cars weren’t as safe then, the highway was in worse condition and there was more alcohol [used by drivers],” he recalled.
“I married a Burnaby girl, [retired teacher] Jane McOuat, who’s quite a Pender Harbour character. I remember getting a letter from my mom [in England] talking about the first woman firefighter in all of England about the same time Jane was getting her 20-year pin for service with the Pender Harbour Fire Department,” he chuckled.
Both of them love the Coast and see themselves back here some day.
Now there are more seniors needing care on the Coast. Farrer sees the shortage of doctors as a result of changes made 20 years ago. At that time there were too many doctors, so the program was changed with two years residencies becoming the norm across Canada. Rather than doing general practitioners’ residencies and then changing to a specialty, young people went directly to their specialties. For some of the new doctors, country doctors were considered the also-rans. The rural GP could expect to work long hours doing stints in emergency, clinic hours and then night rounds. For Farrer, that variety was the icing on his career cake.
One of the best parts of being a Canadian doctor is the lack of social divisions here, he said. In England, Farrer advised, people tend to mix only with their own class, doctors with doctors, teachers with teachers, heavy-duty equipment operators with other operators and artists only with other artists.
“Here there’s a very healthy type of mixing. There are lots of cultural events such as the written arts festival, the chamber music festival and many more,” he said.
Farrer will next be living in his ancestral home, Yorkshire Dales National Park. Neither he nor his wife relish the thought of a drafty stone home that looks the same as it did hundreds of years ago. To see his new digs, go to Google Maps LA2 8DR that will take you right to the front gate.
He’s adamant he’s not going home. A long time ago the Coast earned that moniker. They’ll be back.