Meet a Beekeeper

Profiles by Tony Phillips

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Lauren Park- A Fresh New Face

The face of beekeeping in Nova Scotia is changing. I have a friend and neighbour aged forty who would boast and lament, until recently, that he was often the youngest beekeeper in the room. No more. The recent surge of interest in bees and beekeeping has swelled the ranks of the NSBA and lowered the median age considerably and Lauren Park is representative of the new face of beekeeping in the province.

Lauren came to Nova Scotia in 2007 from her home in Oakville, Ontario to take a degree at Acadia in music education with a specialty in saxophone and bassoon. She stayed true to that career track for a couple of years before getting diverted. She had decided in the winter of 2009 that she wanted to work in Nova Scotia for the summer rather than return to Ontario, and with that in mind she took a resume to Tom Cosman at his honey farm in Greenwich in January of that year. Though shy on hands-on experience, Lauren was well-read on bees. When Tom didn't bite, she persisted, re-visited him in March of that year and got a hearing and a chance. Since that time she has parlayed her interest into a full time job, one that she finds absorbing and fulfilling. 


Tom Cosman- "I Am going To Do That!"

Whenever beekeepers gather, a bit of collective introspection goes on as people look around at the grey hair and wonder about the future of their craft. Count back. Many of those grey hairs had to have started some time, and that time was the 1970's.

Tom Cosman was part of that 1970's intake and his story is not untypical. A suburban Montreal kid, he attended Mount Allison, met his partner Mary Ann Whidden, went to BC- degree unfinished- and during a brief stint as a house husband discovered his calling. A Vancouver neighbour had backyard hives. Tom was fascinated, had his "Eureka" moment and decided at age 21 that "I'm going to do that!" He started reading the "Joys of Beekeeping" by Richard Taylor ... and he still reads voraciously about beekeeping today.


Jerry Draheim- The Flower Child

Out-migration has been the bane of the Maritimes for many years; you can read about it in the Herald almost daily, but it hasn't always been so. Maybe there has been a gradual net loss, but people do come here, and not always to the metro region. There is a small "British invasion" underway now, and in the 1970's we enjoyed a major influx of Americans who wanted the rural life. Jerry Draheim was one of them. And he has made a good life for himself and has
Nova Scotia Bee News January 2015 made good contributions to his chosen home.

He and his wife vacationed and toured in Nova Scotia in 1971 armed with a list from the Farm Loan Board of rural properties for sale. No purchase in 1971, but they returned to Nova Scotia in 1972. Jerry got a job in Halifax and they found their 70 acre Roslin property (between Oxford and Pugwash) through a newspaper ad and moved up-country. It all sounds so familiar and Green Acre-ish: ducks, chickens, goats, bees, gardens combined with a Local Initiative Project that provided temporary employment followed by UI. The UI funded a one week March beekeeping course with Endel Karmo in 1974. Endel was the NS provincial apiarist for many years.


Kevin Spicer

Kevin Spicer started in with bees when he was 13. His dad signed him in to take a course with Gerry Smeltzer in the winter of 1973-74 when Kevin was hampered by a broken leg. In the spring he got a couple of packages of bees from Georgia and installed them and kept them for the summer. Then, following the practice of the time, he gassed them with cyanide at the end of the fall honey flow, to go bee-less for the winter and start the same routine the following year. He recalls feeling bad and that it was a wrong thing to kill the bees off this way and he never did it again; though package beekeeping continued for many years after his first experience, Kevin was an early adopter of over-wintering.

He kept bees through high school and during the summers worked as a beekeeper helper for MW Graves. The company had a beekeeper on staff and kept bees for orchard pollination. When Kevin went to the NSAC in the early 80's to do a technician diploma his brother kept the bees at the home place in Berwick. A little later Kevin did a business degree at Acadia which led to his working in agricultural management positions for the Nova Scotia Grain Commission, East Cost Commodities and Kings Produce. Located in the Valley as he was for school and work, Kevin resumed his beekeeping at a hobby and sideline level through the 80's and 90's.


Phil Janz (deceased)

Phil and Heide Janz embody the 70's vision of back-to-the-land and independence, and they stuck with it and have been living that vision, through ups and downs, long after most of their peers had left the land and accepted commuting and suburban living as their lot. There have been prices to pay, most recently and severely in the last few months, when a crippling back injury of undetermined cause, at age 65, obliged Phil to sell all but a few of his hives. 

Phil's first experience with bees was as a young child on his uncle's farm in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. The smells of the smoker, bee suit, propolis and honey stuck with him and led him over twenty years later, at age 29 in 1975, to get a couple of packages when he was living at the time in Burnaby, BC. He was working for TransMountain Pipeline at the time and a retired employee of that company kept six hives at the tank farm compound, so Phil thought he could, too.


Ben Cornect- It Just Happens

Sometimes stuff "just happens"; other times people consciously cause things to happen, and sometimes stuff happens and people take what they are given and work with it to shape outcomes they desire. That would be called taking charge of your of your destiny. Ben Cornect's progress in beekeeping is an interesting mix of stuff happening and intention and effort to take charge.

In the spring of 2011 Ben, now 27 will start off in business with 375 hives and plans to raise than number in time to 650. It all started about sixteen years ago when Ben was 11 and his mum and dad, Margaret and Wayne Cornect got a couple of hobby hives with a view to developing their skill and pollinating their own low-bush blueberries.


John Murray- From Wanna Be Farmer to Banker

We hear a lot about bankers and financial types who want to become farmers ... Green Acres, Wingfield Farm are two fictions on that theme and it is a fact that the NSDAM introduction to farming course is dominated by 50-somethings. There's often a touch of romanticism and middle-age craziness in these farm enterprises. And that humorous stereotype is one of the things that make John Murray's career trajectory interesting and contrarian. Essentially John went the opposite way –from wannabe farmer to banker, but beekeeping is a big part of his back story.


Don Amirault- The Intentional Beekeeper

Don Amirault became an accidental beekeeper at age twelve, then, at age fifty, after a long hiatus, he became a beekeeper again – intentionally.

When he was a twelve year old living in Digby, a priest, newly assigned to the community asked Don's dad for a place to keep his three hives. A month later the priest offered the hives to twelve year old Don, who accepted and kept them for about ten years until he joined the RCAF in 1962.


Gary Smeltzer- The 'Go To Guy'

Gary has been around bees all his life. His dad caught a swarm in 1945, a year before Gary was born, and kept bees from then on, first in Pictou then later, and for the rest of his life, in Kentville. Gary helped his dad from about age 7 on and into his teens, but didn’t start keeping his own hives until he was an adult and living and working as a teacher in the Shubenacadie area.


Harold Specht- A Close Eye for Over 60 Years

One of the faithful and regular attendees of Martime Beekeeping events is Harold Specht, usually in the company of Frank Woolaver.  These two genial and lanky old guys have been keeping bees separately and together for nearly sixty years. For the recent PEI- hosted Martime Bee Tour, Harold arrived with his one man tent, pitched it in the rain, spent two rainy rent-free nights in it, and got up smiling and limber to enjoy the day's activities.  Harold believes that close control of input costs is part of successful beekeeping.


Al Flemming- Ice Cream with Honey Topping (deceased)

Serendipity Rules. Sunday night dessert at Mount Allison regularly used to be ice cream with honey topping. Combine that memory with chilling out with a friend on a farm house porch, relishing the sights and sounds of nature, but noting the lack of bees. They had read their Yeats, but their farm had no "bee loud glade", so gosh darn, they resolved to remedy that lack by getting some hives. Al did just that in 1950.


Faye Langille- You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

You do what you gotta do. This realization came to Faye Langille in 1992.

The year previously, faced with a looming shortage of beehives for blueberries brought about by closure of the border to US packages, combined with the loss of local hives when a beekeeper friend movedWest, and, bingo: you gotta become a beekeeper yourself.


Menno Reimer- From Belize To Tatamagouche

Menno's trajectory as a beekeeper has taken him from Belize (in Central America) through Manitoba and finally to Nova Scotia – south, north-central, east. He has had to learn and adapt along the way, though he says the basics of beekeeping and his meticulous each-hive-is-unique approach have remained constant, even as venues have changed.

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