13 year old bee keeper from Hiawatha First Nation heading to Russia for apiary competition

Olivia Wilson loves bees – despite not really liking the honey.  She’s fascinated by them.

“My favourite colour is yellow first of all,” says the 13 year old from Hiawatha First Nation, 30 kilometres south of Peterborough. “I just like how they move and how they’re not going to sting you if you don’t hurt them, so if you don’t do anything with them, they’ll let you do whatever you want.”

Olivia says she was first introduced to beekeeping three years ago, when she became involved with the Kawartha Junior Beekeepers.

“I learned a lot about the bees, like they swarm predators, they can, you know, pass away because of all the heat,” said Olivia. “There are also different types of these, like there’s different types of workers and then there’s obviously the Queen and then the drones for the workers there’s like the cleaners, I like to call them the babysitters because they take care of all the larva and eggs and then there’s the voyagers,” she says.

Bee keeper
Bees hard at work in the hive. Photo courtesy: Steve Mongeau.

Her mother Kathryn was surprised that it has held Olivia’s interest for this long.

“I think the first time that I showed her the opportunity and we went to find out about it, I didn’t know that she would get into it as much as she has,” says Kathryn. “I really thought it would be something that she might want to learn about and then kind of step away from, she has a tendency to want to learn about a little about a lot of different things, but this is something she’s stuck with for three years.”

John MacFarlane is a founding member of the hands-on program, developed for youth in the Peterborough area. He began beekeeping as a hobby 10 years ago on his property in Cavan, just outside of Peterborough.

MacFarlane is now running three bee yards.  His home yard is equipped with 10 hives, all adorned with colourfully painted designs by the students in the junior beekeepers’ program.

It’s easy to see that he enjoys sharing his knowledge and passion for bees and its rubbed off on to Olivia.

“It’s been fantastic. Olivia is one of the ones who showed a real interest, who didn’t just want come because it was a club but was doing the work that had been done because it’s a combination of theory and of practical hands-on in the bee yard,” he says.

“It was really exciting to see her develop from a really, really shy, she wouldn’t say two words to start with, to the point where she was playing with bees, joking, she really has come a long, long way and she still interested it wasn’t just a one-year program for her.”

Olivia will be a part of the international meeting of young beekeepers’ competition in Russia in 2022.

Bee keeper
Olivia and John McFarland tend to the hives. Photo courtesy: Steve Mongeau.

Kathryn says it will be an amazing experience for her daughter and an opportunity to have First Nation representation.

“We are the caretakers of the land and knowing that without bees, we wouldn’t have plants, we wouldn’t have food, wouldn’t have all those things and having people really understand and respect the bee and the various kinds of bees,” says Kathryn. “They aren’t there to hurt you, they aren’t there to cause harm and so being able to nurture that relationship between us and them and creation.

“It’s really important and I think that’s a really good learning opportunity that she will be able to bring not only to her peers but to our community as a whole.”

It’s something Olivia says she’s looking forward to doing.

“You go there, and you have these competitions about bees,” she says. “So like you get to tell the differences, there’s honey testing, where you taste the different types of honey from different plants, you also get to see like where their antennas are, or different parts of their body is and just a lot of stuff like that.”

She has a year to prepare for the competition – and maybe even start to take a liking to the honey as well.

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