When Sandy Island was (pardon the pun) a beekeeping hive

Sandy island. (Source: Georgian Bay Land Trust)

On the west side of Wasauksing First Nation on the eastern shore of Georgian Bay is Sandy Island. Since 2008, much of the island (425 acres/172 hectares) has belonged to the Georgian Bay Land Trust. It’s just off the Waubuno Channel and has an excellent harbour, Hale Bay. As a designated “Green” property, the public can visit it, provided you respect the visitor rules and avoid the cottage properties. As the GBLT describes:

Sandy’s unusual geographical characteristics provide habitat for a number of vegetation communities and species with southern affinities. This includes Red Oak – Beech forests virtually unknown elsewhere on Georgian Bay, and an unusual and dense understory of Canada Yew. Other rare species and community types found on Sandy include the Eastern Foxsnake, Spotted Turtle, Massasauga Rattlesnake, Stiff Yellow Flax, Virginia Chain Fern Open Bog and Winterberry Organic Thicket Swamp. The island has been identified as a provincially significant wetland and has been designated a provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI).

Missing from the site description is its unusual role in the history of beekeeping. In the late nineteenth century, David Allanson Jones of Simcoe County’s Beeton was one of North America’s renowned commercial beekeepers and is a member of the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame. As his profile at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography describes, “In 1880 he was producing 70,000 pounds [of honey] from 400 colonies and had an apiary foreman and several boys as assistants.” The DCB entry also tells us: “Jones sought to improve his bees by importing pure breeding stock from Europe and the Middle East. (Honey-bees were not native to North America, and he was not content to capture wild bees, as had been the custom.) In January 1880 Jones and a friend, Frank Benton of the Michigan State Agricultural College, had travelled to Cyprus, Syria, and the Holy Land in search of stock. The bees they collected were transported in clay cylinders to a breeding colony Jones had set up on Cyprus. In June he sailed back to Canada, and with his new bees he established special breeding colonies on isolated islands in Georgian Bay.”

Jones set up his colonies on Sandy Island, as well as on neighbouring Jones, Palestine, and Cyprus Islands. (So now we know how those islands got their names.) On August 13, 1880, the Parry Sound North Star took note of Jones’ activities:

More bees arrived in September, as the North Star reported on October 1:

The honeybee breeding enterprise, alas, did not (pardon the pun) stick. “Though the idea of breeding was a good one, and Jones was able to distribute bees throughout North America, the project was not a commercial success,” his DCB profile tells us. “The island colonies were used only for four years.” I can’t help but wonder what became of all those bees.

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