There does not seem to be any indication that 75-year-old Marcel Desponds of Williams Lake is about to slow down.
Although he’s a retired carpenter, he is very busy.
He keeps bees, makes furniture, gardens, volunteers, and loves to fish.
Originally from the small village of Urdorf near Zurich, Switzerland, he completed six years of elementary school, two years of secondary school, and three and a half years learning the carpentry trade.
He grew up playing soccer, doing gymnastics, wrestling and skiing.
After a four-month posting in the Swiss army, Desponds and two friends headed to Canada in 1957.
The three friends first arrived in Ontario and were hired to work on a farm.
Between 1957 and 1958, Desponds also worked as a finishing carpenter.
When work dried up, the young men started in Winnipeg and headed west looking for work.
They went up to Edmonton and Fort St. John for three weeks, without success, and then headed to Vancouver.
“We got work through the unemployment office milking 78 cows on Lulu Island near Richmond. We got up at 3 a.m. to milk the cows. Then we went to pick strawberries in Aldergrove for two and a half weeks in June,” he remembers. From there they jumped around doing odd jobs such as piling peat, with a bit of carpentry thrown in. Then in January 1959, Desponds was hired at the sawmill in Likely. That first mill broke down and eventually Desponds landed a job as a carpenter in the Netherlands Overseas Mill, working on houses and buildings at the site.
In May 1959, Desponds quit and got a job in Williams Lake with a construction company, again as a carpenter, and from then on worked for various construction companies in the city.
While he was working for local contractor Al Siebert, a crew went to Prince George to work on the American Army radar station.
“We built the covered walkway from one radar tower to another,” Desponds says. He also helped build a pier for the bridge at Quesnel.
In 1963, after working on a high rise in Ottawa, he returned to Switzerland for a visit.
While there, he enrolled in a five-week course being offered by the Jesuit fathers to train to work as a lay missionary in Africa.
“Everyone in the course had a position to go to, but because I had arrived late in the course I didn’t. When a Canadian bishop came to Switzerland looking for carpenters, mechanics, and other tradesmen, I talked with him and told him I was a furniture maker, and specialized in frame work, but not upholstery.”
As a result, Desponds spent 1964 to 1967 in Malawi, Africa, working as a carpenter. At the time Malawi, formerly Nayasaland, had just gained its independence.
“There was lots of trouble at that time. Kamuza Bonda, who was a doctor, became Malawi’s first leader,” Desponds says.
The walls of Desponds’ living room are lined with some select photographs he took and developed while there.
Pointing to one with a large tree in the foreground, he explains it’s a pointsettia — that’s how big they grow there.
Another photograph shows the vast landscape near where he worked, while a third depicts a small child crying.
“That’s little Patrick. The M,M,M on his shirt was from the Medical Missionaries of Mary,” he explains.
From Africa he returned home to Switzerland and eventually arrived back in Williams Lake in 1969, resuming carpentry work.
In 1972 he started P&M Construction with a friend to do concrete frame work, but after a year he quit because the concrete work was bothering his back.
He went back to working for other contractors, which he continued doing up until he retired.
Some of the projects he worked on in Williams Lake include the CIBC on Oliver Street and the Williams Lake Youth Soccer Association club house at the Esler Sports Complex.
These days he continues to volunteer doing carpentry work at Sacred Heart Church and the apartments owned by the Knights of Columbus nearby.
Another one of his past times is beekeeping, something he started in 1976 after taking a weekend course at Cariboo College (now Thompson Rivers University).
His first site for bees was up at Kersley near the Marguerite Ferry, until he realized that location was too far away from his home in Williams Lake if something went wrong.
He tried having bee hives in his backyard, but when the neighbours put in a hot tub, it attracted the bees, so they asked Desponds if he would move the hives.
Attempts at Rose Lake and Soda Creek were thwarted, because they were smashed up by bears, so when another beekeeper, who kept bees on Sunset Drive, passed away Desponds took those bees over and added some of his own.
Today he has three hives on Sunset Drive and one more further up on Fox Mountain.
“The bears smashed these ones up six times in seven years, even crawling under the fence at the back corner,” he says of his present location.
“They take everything out when they leave too.”
On one of those occasions, when he arrived and attempted to put the hives back in order, he received 50 bee stings.
During a Thursday afternoon routine visit to his beehives, he warns that one should never approach a beehive from the front.
“If the bees are out collecting pollen they’ll come flying back in and possibly get caught in your hair and then sting you if they’re mad,” he says.
As he adds a few additional frames into the three hives, he pulls out a few to check on the status of the honey. Honey is in some of the frames, but in others the bees haven’t started making any yet.
Desponds is protected in a full beekeeping suit — one that has an official beekeeping sheriff emblem on the left pocket.
He secures the neck area with some extra duct tape because he doesn’t want any bees getting inside.
Furniture he’s handcrafted graces his kitchen and dining room. There are elegant chairs, a round table, and a built-in bench, the designs he’s used to make for friends as well.
Out in his backyard, he offers up a bag of spinach from his garden, and even though the weekend is around the corner, everything’s growing abundantly. There are carrots, spinach, cabbage, potatoes and more. Looking up to the dark clouds in the sky, he looks at the lawn, shrugs and smiles.
“I’d better mow it before the rain comes,” he says.
Monica Lamb-Yorski photo
Marcel Desponds inspects the status of his honey at one of three beehives he keeps on Sunset Drive. Desponds has been beekeeping since 1976, trying various locations.