Beekeeping has a long history in Squamish. It is not something you learn in a textbook. It is shared.
Working with bees in Squamish’s distinct environment is a nuanced pursuit–it’s the kind thing that one benefits from building on existing experience. This kind of sharing and relationships are the threads by which the esoteric knowledge of beekeeping is passed on from one generation to the next.
Phil Ellis passed away this August. Many will recall buying his honey from Phil’s Bee and Honey Farm at the farmer’s market. His legacy is one of generosity and kindness. He has also passed on a deep knowledge of beekeeping to next generation following this path.
He moved to Squamish in 1968, in an era when there were many beekeepers in town.
He learned from some well-known mentors like Don Ross, but it became a dying art when the town banned beehives in neighbourhoods in 1981. Only in the last few years have bees been allowed back in the city limits.
Although many enthusiasts moved on, one man was just realizing his passion for bees. Before Phil passed away, he was able to pass on what he knows of keeping bees in Squamish to Nic Butler.
Nic Butler – Local Farmer and Beekeeper
Nic Butler was one of the grateful recipients of Phil’s knowledge and his way of being.
He began farming in the mid 2000’s with his brother Stefan, learning the ins and outs keeping bees and growing veggies in this neck of the woods.
“Phil is someone my brother and myself met when we started farming. He prompted us to get bees nine years ago now. He’d be our go to guy when we had questions,” explains Nic, who became good friends with Phil, and subsequently Phil’s family: his partner, Hazel, some of their children and grandchildren.
After his initial endeavor with the bees, Nic let the practice slide, but in 2013 realized he that he missed it. He has returned to bees with a renewed passion and decided to see just how far he could take his bee hobby.
His company is Good Time Bee Farm and from April 1st to November 1st, he fills his time with harvesting honey, capturing swarms, transporting bees, propagating queens, and generally being a bee man.
Nic takes many of his hives up above Lucile Lake and into the Brandywine drainage so they can feed on nectar from fireweed—which flourishes rapidly in years following a clear cut or fire.with
Last season, the hives he transported to the fireweed tripled in size. They returned weighing in excess of 100 pounds.
He’s also begun propagating his own stock, capturing new queens when the hives swarm in the spring and generating new colonies. He has dubbed them the ‘Squamish Mutt.’
With Good Time Bee Farm, Nic Butler is taking the local knowledge passed down from Phil . “You connect a lot when you are working with bees in the bee cage in tight quarters. He was always calm and always happy and appreciative of what was going on around him.”
Synergy of Partnership
“Unfortunately, by the time I got back into it, he [Phil] was starting to battle dementia and I guess we just sort of found each other at the right time,” says Nic. Phil needed a hand in the hives and Nic learned where to locate fireweed honey and a few other tricks of the trade.
“It was really sad to see,” says Nic of Phil’s declining health. “Still what amazed me about him was the moments of clarity he would have in the hive. They were impressive. When he was in the hive he would be like a little kid and he would be so aware,” says Nic, explaining how Phil’s passion and care for the bees transcended his dementia.
One of the things on Nic’s agenda this spring is to move some bees back to Phil’s property in Garibaldi Estates. “We’re going to get bees back to their place again because some of his grandchildren have expressed an interest in keeping bees,” he says.
From one beekeeper to the next, the process of sharing bee knowledge continues. And it’s a good thing it does, as the implications of unhealthy pollinators are far reaching for our food crops and thus well-being.