Optometrist marks half-century in business

Arriving in Fort Frances on the heels of his college graduation, a 21-year-old optometrist settled into a clinic on Scott Street.
A half-century later, Dr. Robert Lidkea is still caring for the eyes of the community—and has no plans to quit anytime soon.
“I was 21 years old when I arrived, barely old enough to get my licence,” Dr. Lidkea said from his office Friday afternoon.
The North Bay native moved to Fort Frances on June 4, 1952 to take up part of the clinic that was left vacant by a previous optometrist.
“Back then, this building was the Fort Frances Clinic,” he noted, adding that in the beginning, medical doctors, a dentist, and a drug store all were housed there.
“I had one room in the building and it’s grown and grown, and now I have the full building,” he chuckled.
Part of the reason for moving to the area came from necessity, he said.
“Just before me, there was a lot of DVA boys come back and finish their high school and go on to optometry, so there was a great influx of optometrists and it was not easy to find a place to start,” Dr. Lidkea recalled.
“There was this opportunity and I have no regrets. It worked out well. I came here, grew into the community, and enjoyed it,” he added.
Here, Dr. Lidkea met his wife, Margaret, whom he’s been married to for 44 years, and raised two sons, Allan and Bruce.
Dr. Bruce Lidkea now works alongside his father, and fellow optometrist Dr. George Elliot, and actually has taken over the practice from him.
“He is one of the reasons I got into optometry. I saw how much Dad enjoyed his work on a daily basis,” Dr. Bruce Lidkea enthused.
With a half-century of experience, the elder Dr. Lidkea said a lot has changed since he started.
“There’s so much more knowledge and so much more technology and so much new equipment since I started,” he noted. “There’s so much more knowledge about what’s going on in the eye and as we learn, our patients benefit.
“One of the biggest changes has been in cataract surgery,” Dr. Lidkea said. “When I started, it was a major surgery where the patient had to lay still in bed and have their head sandbagged for three days.
“Now it’s day surgery where they walk in and walk out the same day.”
To keep up with these medical changes, Dr. Lidkea went back to school first on a part-time basis in 1957-58 to receive a new degree in optometry and then refresher courses throughout his career.
He also has received an honourary degree from the University of Waterloo and earned a fellowship in the American Academy of Optometry.
“I’ve literally been in school for 67 years,” he chuckled.
One of the best parts of his job always has been treating people. Dr. Lidkea has watched children grow up here, and proudly notes he has treated fourth and fifth generations of families here.
“I can tell them things about their grandparents that they didn’t know.”
Dr. Lidkea only works three days a week now, but has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“I only work three days a week so I’m retired two days a week,” he said. “As long as I’m enjoying it and feel I have something to offer, I’ll be here.”
An open house will be held Tuesday, June 4 at their office (221 Scott St.) and everyone is invited to help celebrate Dr. Lidkea’s 50 years of work here.