The Golden Years: Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup Hockey Picture Promotion 1934-68

 “The Golden Years: Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup Hockey Picture Promotion 1934-68” is a glorious, 296-page coffee-table chronicle of the most successful consumer promotion in Canadian history. Now in their own “golden years”, avid Bee Hive collectors, Don Pillar, a retired teacher, and Aubrey Ferguson, a retired consumer marketer, have teamed-up to document the story of Bee Hive hockey pictures and the lifecycle of the small Canadian company that provided “free” 4¼” by 6¾” black and white pictures, mounted on a larger color matte pictures of their favourite hockey players, in exchange for redemption pieces from St. Lawrence Starch products. (Because labels from Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup were by far the most frequently submitted, the pictures naturally became known as “Bee Hives”.) Both Pillar and Ferguson willingly admit that as passionate Bee Hive collectors they wrote this book more for themselves than anyone else. They simply wanted to piece together and preserve everything that they had learned about the Bee Hive picture promotion and to share it with like-minded collectors and any hockey fan who ever sent away for “Bee Hives”.

The mail-in promotion was conceived in 1933 as a means of boosting St. Lawrence Starch’s sponsorship of Wes McKnight’s Sportsviews interviews on Radio Station CFRB that preceded the Saturday night ritual of listening to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey game. Bee Hive pictures provided the ideal visual complement to Foster Hewitt’s game commentary and together they brought our childhood heroes into Canadian living rooms. 

The inspired picture promotion vaulted St. Lawrence Starch into market leadership and Bee Hive became Canada’s largest-selling corn syrup in the late-1930’s and maintained that position throughout the duration of the promotion.  Sales of Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup quadrupled and, at its peak, more than 2,500 photos were mailed daily from the St. Lawrence Starch in Port Credit, Ontario. With the arrival of televised NHL hockey games in 1952, the need for a visual complement to broadcasts waned, but the appeal that these pictures held for collectors and young hockey fans had been well established and the attraction of Bee Hives carried on. By the late-1950s, the promotion, however, no longer delivered appreciable incremental sales and subsequent onerous cost increases to the promotion began to surface (e.g. a revised promotional contract with the new Maple Leafs ownership of Stafford Smythe, Harold Ballard and John Bassett, creation of the NHL Players Association, expansion to 12 NHL teams, and higher postage rates). As hockey’s Golden Era concluded, so too ended the Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup hockey picture promotion. 

For hundreds of thousands of Canadian youngsters, the joy of receiving a personally addressed envelope from the St. Lawrence Starch Company that contained recently ordered Bee Hive pictures is a treasured childhood memory. Just imagine the thrill that awaits within the pages of “The Golden Years” as every Bee Hive hockey player picture (1025) from the 35 years of the promotion is featured. As well, over 370 related images of player lists, advertising, redemption pieces, packaging, and related premiums (e.g. team crests, jewellery, Who’s Who in the NHL booklets, skate sharpeners, scribblers) enhance the story of Bee Hive pictures. Even rarely seen Bee Hive pictures of the Dionne Quintuplets, British Royalty and WWII “aeroplanes” are included!

Beginning with a brief history of the St. Lawrence Starch Company, the entire Bee Hive picture promotion is recounted chronologically as the authors masterfully weave in significant social and historical events that occurred each year of the promotion. As a result, not only is the history of Bee Hive hockey pictures chronicled, but a significant bit of Canadian history as well. Visual examples of major competitive premium offerings from Canada Starch’s Crown Brand, Quaker Oats, Parkhurst, O-Pee-Chee, CHEX, and the Toronto Star are also included. The Golden Years concludes with a post-promotion epilogue and appendices of unconfirmed and unlisted pictures.  All these decades later, Bee Hives remain a cherished piece of Canadiana from a simpler time. What began as almost a vanity project, authors Pillar and Ferguson have published a wonderful addition to the hockey library.

“The Golden Years” is self-published and is not sold through retailers. It is only available through the authors’ website:  

To place an order, please visit the website where you can also view a dozen sample pages from “The Golden Years” and learn more about the authors.