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Great pairings through history include peanut butter and jam, Simon and Garfunkel, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Hockey fans of a certain vintage will recall another great duo—Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup and hockey photos.
Two of those “certain vintage” are Aubrey Ferguson and Don Pillar, co-authors of the new book, The Golden Years: Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup Hockey Picture Promotion 1934-1968.
They also make a great team, and their partnership began a few years back, at a collectibles show, where they were each working on their personal Bee Hive hockey photo collections. “When you’re at a show, it’s a competitive thing,” noted Ferguson.
But they exchanged contact information, with the hope that the other might be able to help with missing photos from their collections. “[Don] seemed like a pretty reasonable guy compared to a lot of the collectors I’d met, so we just stayed in touch over the years,” chuckled Ferguson during a three-way video call with Pillar and myself.
It was Pillar that harboured the dream of doing something with all the knowledge about the unique collectibles.
“I had talked about doing a Bee Hive book for the longest time, and I was picking away it, getting it sorted out. Aubrey and I were talking and he said, ?Well, let’s do it together,’” recalled Pillar.
As both are members of the Society for International Hockey Research, they took the time to really flesh it all out while traveling from their homes near Toronto to the SIHR meeting in Minnesota in November 2015.
The result is The Golden Years. It’s a lavishly-illustrated book, where Ferguson’s daughter Leah did the cover and the conceived the layout, which Amanda Woodman (a friend of Don’s family) rolled out.
To this reader, The Golden Years celebrates advertising and promotion as much as it does Bee Hive photos, as well as changes in manufacturing. It’s also a history book, as the Second World War plays a prominent role in the narrative. There are tales of corn syrup companies battling, competing hockey promotions such as Quaker Oats’ photos and other goodies, details of partnerships with radio programs and the transition into a television world, and all the other sweet treats that were offered: hockey rings and tie-pins, hockey trophies, photos of war planes and ships, British royalty, the Dionne quintuplets, cyclists, skiers, swimmers, and even a plaque to commemorate Canadian prime ministers.
While early in the book, the writers say, “The allure of Bee Hive pictures to many collectors is clearly due to the simplicity and naivety of the promotion,” it is clearly not a simple story to tell.
At its core, Bee Hive collectors think of there being three distinct series—before World War II, after World War II, and the wood-grain series near the end of the run.
Yet that was too simplistic, and the authors broke it down further. “Instead, by doing it year by year, we were able to tie in what was happening in history, the social events of that time,” said Ferguson. “So it becomes a bit of a Canadian history as well as a BeeHive hockey promotion.”
The attention to detail is astounding, such as which players are shown in incorrect jerseys or are wrongly identified or weren’t listed in the newspaper advertising, and will satisfy the Bee Hive purists, but it does not take away from the larger, ahem, picture.
“That’s something that BeeHive people seem to really enjoy, the details,” said Pillar, noting that there have been gatherings of like-minded collectors. “When people would come to these BeeHive fests, we’d be sharing things that we learned, and sharing questions that we had. I think that’s where all the fine detail came from.”
The team aspect of Pillar-Ferguson worked when putting the book together, and now, as they are out promoting the self-published book.
“Most of the advertising is from Don’s collection. My background was in marketing. So Don provided the images and I provided some of the advertising context,” said Ferguson. “Our styles blended, and it was a better document than either of us could have written by ourselves.” Other collectors shared their knowledge and images—every Bee Hive, ever, is reproduced.
In essence, Pillar (who previously wrote Out of the Limelight: A History of Marble Mountain, Cape Breton) started at the beginning, with the origins of the Bee Hive promotions in 1934, and Ferguson started at the end, with its cancellation in 1968. Ferguson has a special interest in the whole bootleg/knockoff Bee Hive market, so contributed there.
“One of my interests is the fake BeeHives,” said Ferguson. “I’ve got a reasonable collection of those. It’s interesting that somebody would have taken the time to generate over 700 images, over and above the collection, and invested some pretty serious coin into getting them reproduced.”
Speaking of investing, The Golden Years is a self-published venture, and is only available at the moment through the website, https://beehivegoldenyears.com, which offers some preview pages. It's priced at $52.50 CDN.
The dynamic duo had hoped to be at collectible shows and out and about selling the book. Instead, with the books arriving during the spring 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, they have done their best to get it out there. Some patrons have come to buy in person in a no-contact set-up, while the mail is the other delivery option, though it’s an expensive book to send ($30-$35 in postage) and the postal services have been overwhelmed during the pandemic.
The feedback has helped make it all worthwhile, said Pillar. “People appreciate wanting to know the story of something that was part of their childhood. Most of the folks when they reply they say, ?Wow. Wow. Thank you.’”
“The American interest is greater than we would have projected,” said Ferguson. “Because the heart of the Bee Hive promotion is the Golden Era of hockey, there’s a lot of people that just like the history of that era, and that’s the sweet spot of the book, so it does dovetail with a lot of guys’ interest in the game—especially guys that are our age and older.”
Don Pillar and Aubrey Fergsuson
The Society for International Hockey Research president Fred Addis announced its 2020 awards, which would normally be presented in person at the spring meeting, which was cancelled due to COVID-19, and had been scheduled for St. Catharines, Ontario. All three are published authors and therefore deserving of more praise here in Two Minutes for Reading so Good. Congratulations to them all!
Harnarayan Singh of Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi has his memoir coming out in the fall, co-written with Edmonton?s Michael Hingston. Ron MacLean wrote the foreword. The cover was revealed on May 26th:
Penguin Random House imprint McClelland is publishing it.
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