Lidkea marks 60 years in optometry business here

Duane Hicks

Dr. Robert Lidkea celebrated 60 years as an optometrist in Fort Frances this week, but he has no intention of stepping away anytime soon.
“[Optometry] has changed in so many ways. I have enjoyed changing with it,” Dr. Lidkea said during an interview Monday afternoon, which turned out to be a busy day both for seeing patients as well as greeting those who dropped by to congratulate him, including his very first patient, Polly Basaraba.
Dr. Lidkea, who was honoured by the Ontario Association of Optometrists in 2004 when he received the Millennium Award for Public Service, is the longest-practising optometrist in the province.
A part-time associate since his son, Bruce, took over the business, he continues to work three days a week at Lidkea Optometry.
“I just enjoy coming to work every day,” Dr. Lidkea smiled. “Today, I had a young fellow in here . . . and I used to take care of his grandfather’s grandfather.
“I enjoy it, I just need to do it,” he added. “I don’t want to stop.
“I don’t want to work full-time, so I am fortunate in this job I can work part-time.”
Originally from North Bay, the 21-year-old came to Fort Frances on June 4, 1952 after graduating from the University of Toronto as a Registered Optometrist.
He came to work at 221 Scott St., the current location of Lidkea Optometry, which at the time was the Fort Frances Clinic.
Optometrist Dr. Alice Solomon wanted to retire, so Dr. Lidkea bought her out and shared space at the clinic with Drs. Solomon and Boyle, dentist Dr. Ayre, and drug store owner Peter Jensen Sr..
“The equipment and knowledge has changed so much since then,” recalled Dr. Lidkea, who has started to write about the changes in the optometry field that he’s seen over the years.
He noted there were no electronics whatsoever 60 years ago. Chairs and stands had to operated with a foot pedal like an old barber chair, and adding machines had hand levers.
If you wanted to multiply a number by 13, for example, you would enter the number in the machine and pull a lever 13 times.
As well, lights were incandescent, not halogen, making it more difficult to see inside patients’ eyes.
“We did not have good ways of checking for glaucoma,” noted Dr. Lidkea. “It was hit-and-miss when we found it.
“Now it’s so easy to pinpoint.”
But the more some things change, the more they stay the same.
“Some of the frames that were popular then are back in style today,” chuckled Dr. Lidkea. “They recycle.
“The glasses I wore in my graduation picture—if I had them today, I could sell a hundred of them.”
Dr. Lidkea stayed at the 221 Scott St. location over the years, taking over more and more of the building as fellow tenants moved out.
For example, the clinic departed around 1955 while Peter Jensen Sr.’s drug store left in 1957-58.
At one point, the building was occupied by St. Mary’s Credit Union. It also was the location of a series of tailors, not to mention a travel service.
Moving ahead to the 1970s and ’80s, Dr. Lidkea also had partnered with local optometrists Dr. Lorelei Locker and Dr. George Elliott.
In 1994, Dr. Lidkea’s son, Bruce, came aboard after becoming an optometrist himself, shortly after which time the office location was completely renovated.
Even since then, Dr. Lidkea noted the practice is updating its equipment constantly to remain on the leading edge of optometric care.
As well, Dr. Lidkea has never really stopped going to school.
“I’m already booked to get my education hours in the fall,” he remarked. “I have mandatory education and I am planning on going in November for more.
“I have to go to school every year. I figure I’ve been in school for 77 years,” he chuckled.
Dr. Lidkea also noted that Fort Frances has proven to be a good training ground for optometrists over the decades, noting there’s probably eight optometrists that have come from here in those years.