Lesson: Listen to the Elders.
At Yukon’s Brewery Creek, a past-producing gold mine I mistakenly thought we could get back into production, we regularly hosted community site tours and one day we hosted the Trondek Hwechin First Nation Elders. It was a beautiful June day with lunch visits to our drills, old pits, core shack, and a helicopter tour of the entire site and award-winning reclamation. With this reclamation the Elders immediately spotted the variety of flowers and vegetation and pointed out that the environment was perfect for bees, and that we should have bees.
Years later, after a false start on the restart of the gold mine, we were back trying again (unsuccessfully but that is another story) and I was now Chief Executive Officer. And we were going to have bees; the Elders wanted bees, so I was getting bees.
It was no simple task: find a bee expert, find bees, import bees, house bees, maintain bees. We had plans of honey and education on bee-keeping, all at a former gold mine with beautiful reclamation work completed. What a great idea to build our working relationship with the community, do something positive on the land and leave a beautiful legacy and maybe a viable business from the bees.
We had to pick the perfect spot for the bees, they need water and flowers, they had to be out of the way, a quiet setting, to allow them to flourish and produce honey. We found what we believed was the perfect spot and installed about 250,000 bees, with one queen bee, in several hives all surrounded by a formidable solar-powered electric fence. The fence would keep out bears.
And there the bees remained, away from our work and noise, peaceful. Many of our staff and crew would visit the bees. In its picturesque setting it was still, and the buzz of the bees was a beautiful sound that made you feel very peaceful. Having been terrified of bees most of my life I assumed I would not experience this peace and joy from the bees, but there I was standing and watching them work away, caring very little about my presence. They were captivating and they were beautiful creatures.
Summer came and went with the bees working tirelessly. Winter came and with it their hibernation, we wrapped the hives in insulated blankets to keep them warm through the cold Yukon winter. We did not collect honey our first Fall, having been advised that they need a full year to build up to a good consistency for honey production.
Spring came and with a big snowfall. We had to keep our distance until it was time to remove the insulated blankets (that included openings to allow the bees to leave the hives when ready). One day, the time came for our crew to check on the bees and off they went in the truck, while I worked away at the site office.
While standing looking out the window I noticed a very unusual bee, it was unlike one I had ever seen before. I thought to myself it looked like a picture I had once seen of a queen bee. It seemed odd.
Then the crew came back, they looked troubled. It seemed our formidable electric fence was not so formidable for bears, and the lure of honey drew the bear through the fence. The electric fence combined with bee stings must have really annoyed the bear, who completely shredded the hives. And every lick of honey and honeycombs consumed. The crew would not even let me see the damage.
While a failure for our first round of beekeeping, we did try something new, and we consoled ourselves that the queen survived. We also, with the help of the bear, who enjoyed a lovely spring feast, released 250,000 bees who were now living freely on the land surrounded by abundant food, water and peace.
I loved the feeling of standing and listening and watching those bees, and I still want beehives again one day.