Beekeeping and the production of honey have been an important industry in Saskatchewan since the early 1900s. In 2003, honey production was estimated to be worth $35 million to the provincial economy. Beekeeping is a part-time activity for some 1,000 producers and a full-time career for 150. The migration of honeybees into Saskatchewan coincided with the coming of the first settlers from eastern Canada and the United States. The first records of honeybees in the province date back to 1900; by 1922 there were about eighty-fuve beekeepers who produced 24,000 pounds of honey. Most of these beekeepers were located in the southern and eastern parts of the province. Interest in producing honey was aroused at this time by a growing demand as well as by increasing prices, due in part to the shortages and high prices of sugar which occurred during and immediately after World War I.
The Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association was organized in 1923 with John Hubbard of Grenfell as the first president and Thomas Mack of Lumsden as the first vice-president. Hubbard held the first organized beekeeper meeting in 1920 at his apiary in Grenfell, assisted by Robert Hamilton of Aylsham. Organized research and extension work in beekeeping had their beginning at the University of Saskatchewan in 1923 under the direction of Dr. C.F. Patterson, head of the Horticulture Department. The first pamphlets on beekeeping were “Possibilities of Beekeeping in Saskatchewan,” by J. Hubbard, in 1922, and “Beekeeping, A New Industry for Saskatchewan,” by C.F. Patterson, in 1924. The first bulletin “Beekeeping in Saskatchewan,” by R.M. Pugh, was published in 1929. A five-day course was held at the University of Saskatchewan in February 1926, while the first regular course in beekeeping offered there was given during the academic year 1926-27 and is still offered each year.
The Apiaries Act which now governs the beekeeping industry in the province came in 1924. The first office to look after beekeeping was set up in the Field Crops Branch, with A.I. Smith, a Regina beekeeper, in charge of the work. The first Provincial Apiarist, R.M. Pugh, took office in 1927 and continued in that capacity until 1948. World War II caused a further expansion of beekeeping because of sugar rationing and by 1947 there were over 10,000 registered beekeepers in Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Honey Producers Co-operative Association was organized in 1939, with its first packing plant at Yorkton. For a time, the Apiary Branch of the Department of Agriculture and the offices of the Beekeepers Association and Honey Producers Co-operative were located at Fort Qu'Appelle. The Association was then credited as having the largest membership of any beekeeping organization in the world. The president, from 1940 to 1951, was P.C. Colquohoun, beekeeper, rancher and farmer from Maple Creek.
The Beekeepers Association and the Honey Producers Co-operative became separate entities in the 1950s, and the Co-operative amalgamated with the Manitoba Honey Producers Co-operative in the 1970s. The Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association continues as an organization dedicated to the support and success of the industry in the province, and functions to educate the membership and represent the industry at the provincial and national government levels. In 2004, provincial beekeepers operated approximately 100,000 colonies of bees, and produced a honey crop of close to 20 million pounds. The per-colony honey production in Saskatchewan is consistently higher than in any other Canadian province.
John Gruszka, Ray Ambrosi