Valley Voices: Cupid in the apiary

The story of Jesse and Francis Emery, the Bee Farm girls of Upper Clearwater, as told by an old-timer in 1971

Jesse and Francis Emery

Jesse Emery was not doing very well with her bees.  She lived at Blackpool, B.C. 70 miles north of Kamloops, on the North Thompson with her mother and brothers and sisters. However, Blackpool was a poor district for bees; there were not enough wild raspberries, clover and fireweed.

The government bee inspector told Jesse that 40 miles from her home up the Clearwater River, and five miles by packhorse trail beyond the last settlement, were thousands of acres of fireweed.  Bees should do well there. That was in 1932.

Jesse loaded up a packhorse and tramped the 40 odd miles to the end of the road at Upper Clearwater to see this true Eden for her. Yes, it was true. Four or five miles beyond the last homestead she came to valleys choked with fireweed shoulder high.

Being a girl of action, she did not say, “Well, this would be a fine place for bees if it were a little more accessible.”

She selected a likely piece of ground, filed on a homestead, bought six packages of bees, had six hives made, and packed the equipment into the fireweed country.

The bees did well, so well in fact that she got her younger sister, Francis, to come up and help her look after them. In the following year the hives averaged over 200 pounds of honey to a hive, some of them producing as much as 250 pounds. The Bee Girls, as the homesteaders in Upper Clearwater knew them, made more money off their bees than the homesteaders did off their quarter sections.  They sold their honey at from 10 to 15 cents a pound locally, the average being 12 1/2 cents. The honey was of fine flavor and density and the demand unlimited.

The original six hives increased to 12. The girls built a fine cabin, cleared a little land, built fences and tended their bees.

Every ounce of equipment had to be packed in on the backs of pack horses over four miles of trail from the end of the wagon road, and very often over the full wagon road.

At times they had to pack as far as the full 24 miles from the nearest store at Clearwater station. In wintertime the girls lived at home but after every heavy fall of snow Jesse tied on her snowshoes and hiked into the bee ranch to clear the snow away from the hives lest the bees suffocate.

No doubt the Bee Girls would still be on their lonely ‘bee ranch” among the turned snags and fireweed had not Cupid taken a hand. The boys in Upper Clearwater somehow became ‘bee conscious” all at ounce.

If you are living in “a real good country for bees,” the natural thing is to find out something about them. You can find out about bees from the government bulletins but with the Bee Girls right there like that, only four miles from the end of the road and only six miles away from home, why, it was much easier to just walk up there and get some first hand knowledge. And while you were there, why it was just too bad to let the girls do all that wood chopping and stake splitting and fencing building.

Learning about bees soon broke into romance, and none of your theater going soda-drinking kind of romance but the real stake splitting wood chopping kind, known only to real homesteaders who can stretch a dollar bill from the first of November to the day before Christmas.

Two brothers finally won the day and Jesse and Francis Emery became Mrs. Roy Shook and Mrs. Floyd Shook respectively.

I went with Roy Shook out to the ‘bee ranch.” He is setting up a fine home on his homestead and his wife has a full time job looking after their five months old son down in “civilization.  Roy makes trips once a week out to the apiary to see that all is well.

Since they were married he has taken over the bee keeping and is finding it no easy task. Last winter he was unable to get to the hives soon enough after a heavy snow storm and lost a strong hive through suffocation.

On one trip to the hives this spring he discovered a swarm on a nearby bush. In cajoling it into a new hive the greater part of the swarm escaped.

This summer he had trouble again with a hive of strong bees robbing a weaker hive. He is learning fast, however, and soon hopes to get as high production as his enterprising wife had.

He showed me the new bee house he is experimenting with. A fine log building with bee escapes along the walls near the floor, large enough to hold ten hives and built with a view to keeping the hives in both winter and summer. This cabin gave excellent protection against bears if they bothered the hives but peculiarly enough, although this is one of the best bear hunting districts in B.C. they have not so far interfered with the hives.

There is plenty of room for more beekeepers in the valleys beyond Upper Clearwater. It took two enterprising girls to show that bee keeping can be profitable out in the wilds.

 

The truth is, the bees barely made an impression on the sea of fireweed that chokes the valleys of that district.

 

 

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