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How Sweet It Is: A Visit with Lorne Thurston

April 29, 2023

Lorne Thurston Collecting a Hive of Bees at Muriel and Murray Walker's Farm, circa 2005

By Rose Anne Kulmala

Originally Published in the Bobcaygeon Promoter, May 2, 2003

Whenever I drive around the country and see the names of roads, like Smith Road or Beatty Road, I always wonder about the folk whose name was given to the road. Some are more interesting than others and Thurstonia is one of those interesting ones. After having lived in the area now for almost 20 years, I now have met many of the families who have roads named after their ancestors and I have known Lorne Thurston for several years. I refer to Lorne as the Thurston from Thurstonia. Of course there are a lot of Thurstons out that way and Lorne is only one of them, but he’s the one that I have come to know.

You just gotta love Lorne. He has a farm just down the road from the cemetery on Highway 36 at Thurstonia. The property that Lorne and his wife Myrtle occupy is one of the family farms. The first Thurston who came to the area was Lorne’s Great Grandfather. One of the deeds in Lorne’s possession tells us that Carnaby Thurston bought 50 acres in 1868 just next to Lorne’s farm for around $85. That land is still owned by the Thurstons of Thurstonia. Most of Thomas Thurston’s children settled in the area and acquired land and much of that land is still owned by Thurstons or who have Thurston connections.

For many in the area, Lorne has become the honey man. He has kept bees for decades and certainly knows his business. His honey has taken prizes at the Canadian National Exhibition and the Royal Winter Fair. Lorne started looking after bees in about 1943, when he was somewhere around 14 years of age. He won first prize ten out of eleven years from the 60s into the 70s for the greatest number of points on entries at the Royal Winter Fair, and took the Jones Comb Honey Trophy for six consecutive years. What a record! He says the late 70s and early 80s were terribly poor for honey, and that probably kept Lorne a little poor also. Though Lorne has other things on his farm besides honey bees, he has come to depend heavily on the income from the honey business. He says it is the most financially successful part of farming.

Lorne keeps about 200 hives, not all on the farm of course. He also has about 35 hives just out in the orchard by his farm buildings, but also has bee lots throughout the township where the other 165 hives are kept. It’s a fairly full time job these days, maintaining 200 hives and he and Myrtle are kept busy between the farm and their honey stand. Lorne is busy checking on the hives now to make sure the bees have enough feed to see them through until the blossoms start. The spring blossom and pollen season is all starting very late this year and that isn’t good news for the bees who are now away and wanting to begin work. They are disappointed and very hungry with no blooms on the vine yet. The day I went out to the hives with Lorne it was very cold, but the bees were hard on their travels looking for pollen of which there is very little. In the 1960s, Lorne had as many as 235 hives, but experience has taught him that 200 hives is very manageable and if he has more he would need to hire help. That being the case, he and Myrtle stick to the 200 and manage themselves. More would have also meant travelling further afield to care for the bees and harvest the honey. The farthest Lorne travels now is 18-20 miles.

According to him, a recent study done in Germany has shown that the most profitable and productive farms are a maximum of 170 acres. He says bees are the same and if he sticks to 200 hives the bees and he are profitable and productive.

Lorne and Myrtle do their own packaging and you can get honey at the farm in what ever quantity you choose from a small jar of 500 grams to a 5-kilogram bucket and larger quantities than that if you like. You can also bring your own containers to the farm and get them filled if you choose. The Thurstons say their best income comes from their farm honey stand and people come from all over Ontario.

This month Lorne will take the covers off all the hives and things will really start buzzing. The hives produce approximately 60-100 pounds of honey each per year. The honey is mainly made from clovers, “but there’s lots of goldenrod and blueweed in there too, depending on the year,” he says.

For many years now, mites have been a problem for our beekeepers. This problem was overcome by most beekeepers using Apistan strips. These strips are placed in the hive, the bees must brush against them as they go about their business. This kept the mites under control. Now, however, the mites are mutating and the Apistan is not working the same as it did. This of course has beekeepers worried. Along with the hazard of mites comes a new hazard—the bee rustlers. This may sound funny to you, but its not funny to beekeepers. Some operations have been almost wiped out by a gang who seem to come in the night and steal the hives. I say a gang, because it has been determined that there is more than one person involved, but we don’t know exactly how many or even if there is more than one gang. That’s how I met Lorne actually. He came to see me a few years ago to see if the paper could help the beekeepers who seem to get little help from local law enforcement agencies. I guess it seems like a peculiar crime to police, and probably not one they are used to dealing with. What we ask of the public is to be aware this is going on and if you have a beekeeper with hives near your property, keep a close eye on the hives and make sure there are no strangers, vehicles, trucks or trailers around the hives….. So far this year there have been 21 hives stolen from the Oakwood area. The culprits are good at what they do and so far there has been little in the way of leads as to where they come from and who they are. …

Lorne Thurston has always been active in the community and still looks after the cemetery books. He says there is a page in the cemetery book for each letter of the alphabet to keep track of those buried in the cemetery. When it comes to the Thurstons, why they have their own pages. There are few headstones in the cemetery that don’t have Thurston on them or the name of someone who is related to the Thurstons. The cemetery is, as Lorne put it, the new cemetery, the first burial here was in 1900.

So if you are like me and wonder about the families who have roads named after them, I hope you enjoy knowing this little bit about the Thurstons and Lorne and Myrtle’s Spring Bank Farm, or as it is often referred to by locals, ‘the honey farm.’

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