I was suddenly looking to my right, as if by instinct. I think it was just after I had crossed Highway 10 (Hurontario Street). What should have been the old St. Lawrence Corn Starch plant (and the tiny reddish/brownish brick building that I always assumed was the company ‘Head Office”) was, of course, no longer in existence—replaced by what seem to be very modern-looking buildings— condominiums and related housing and offices.
It’s all part of progress, of course. But I’ll always remember visiting my older sister back in the late 1960s (she lived in Clarkson or Port Credit, I believe it was) and being driven by the buildings that were part of the old St. Lawrence company. I’m not exaggerating when I say that was almost as excited as I was the first time I walked into Maple Leaf Gardens as an 11 year old during the 1964-’65 NHL season (Ronnie Ellis’ first season, as I recall).
Why does this matter at all, you may well wonder? Well, that company mattered to me as a young hockey fan because they were the ones that produced those great old black and white “Bee Hive” photos and who gave them away to those of us who sent in a box top from one of their St. Lawrence family of products. It could be their corn starch or whatever, but for me, it was about convincing my parents, who made precious little income as it was in those days, to buy something they didn’t need very often (Bee Hive Corn Syrup). I needed their help because they made the purchase and I would then collect the (purple and yellow?) circular “ring” that sat between the top of the syrup can and the twist-off top. That was the “golden ticket” for kids like me. Every one of those "tops" would net you a picture of a Leaf, Hab, Bruin or a player from one of the other "Original Six" teams.
Goodness, I collected so many of those old photos. I have almost none any more, but what joy they brought. Every time I could cobble together two or three of those Bee Hive mail-in tops, I would mail them in, and for a couple of weeks, anxiously await the arrival of those light brown, mid-size (larger than regular size) envelopes with those classic “posed” player photos inside.
You know what was also great? The envelope had my name—and my address—on the front. How great it was to get “personal” mail as a youngster (at least mail with my name on it!). In the upper left-hand corner, there was a mimeograph photo of the St. Lawrence Corn starch facility in Port Credit, and of course the company’s return address.
For me, receiving that envelope was just about the height of excitement in the early and mid-1960s. I was born in 1953 so I was in my hockey-collecting "kid" prime in that era. I would dutifully write out, long hand, my letter to the company each time, respectfully asking for the pictures of certain players. Once I had collected all my favourite Leafs, I went on to certain Hab player and of course big names like Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe. (The Howe photo on the left is from the classic woodgrain Bee Hive series in the early-mid 60s.) As I recall, for regulars like myself, the company would forward a checklist that was pretty useful as you collected more and more photos.
At one point in my life, years ago when I was a lot more involved in collecting (I still enjoy it, but don’t find the time for it as much these days), I had a better sense of the history of the Bee Hive photos. I broadly know that there were maybe two or three different types of Bee Hive pictures over the years, depending on what time period you were collecting during the 1950s and ‘60s. (I think this promotion stopped when the fledgling NHL Players Association demanded financial compensation from the company…)
My older brothers had their own original Bee Hive pictures from the 1950s—mostly Habs, of course—because they were ardent and very passionate (like my father) Montreal supporters. I remember because I slept under the pictures—displayed on the wall in my and my brother's tiny (and I do mean tiny) bedroom. Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Dickie Moore and Boom Boom Geoffrion were in the frame the boys had set up, along with the legendary goaltender, Jacques Plante. (I "inherited" the Donnie Marshall Bee Hive photo on the right, an older and different style of photo from the Howe picture above. Marshall was a fine NHL'er, who played more than 20 years in the NHL, including a season in the early '70s with the Leafs. As a rebellious Leaf fan, I was not exactly first in line for the pictures of all the Hall-of-Fame Hab greats...)
Those Canadiens were some of the finest players ever in the history of our great sport.
As I have written here before, I grew up hating the Habs and loving the Leafs, despite the family influence. But despite my Leaf leanings, my Dad did everything he could to “enable” my hockey collecting addiction. No family ever needed as much corn syrup as we bought, I'm sure. Believe me when I say we had very little money. But for me, the “baby” of the family, getting a 5-cent pack of hockey cards or buying a can of syrup (that you didn’t really need) was something they did because, well, they loved me, eh?
Having had four (now grown) sons of my own, I’ve tried to pass that along, when our guys were little and wanted something that they just had to have. (I was particularly an easy mark if it had to do with sports and collecting…)
In any event, I’ve never forgotten those Bee Hive photos. They were a part of my life as a kid. Keon, Mahovlich, Horton, Bower, Sawchuk. Received them all—in the mail, with my name on the envelope. It was so, so cool.
I’ve written here before about one of my earliest favourite Leafs, a goalie by the name of Eddie Chadwick. Probably before I was even a Leaf fan, my older brothers (the boys must have run out of Habs they wanted to collect) had sent away for his picture. He thus became one of the first Maple Leaf names that was imprinted in my hockey memory bank. It’s still there, after all these years. (The Chadwick photo at left may have been one of his Bee-Hive photos, but we had a different one when I was a kid. This one is from an old magazine, but was a promo photo for the Bee Hive offer.)
Those were certainly golden times as a youngster, and as a hockey fan in Canada.
I wonder if some of you had a similar experience with those old Maple Leaf (or other teams, too, of course) Bee Hive photos?