Marcel Desponds with his garden in the background.

Marcel Desponds with his garden in the background.

They Call the Cariboo Home: Marcel Desponds — a busy beekeeper

There does not seem to be any indication that 75-year-old Marcel Desponds of Williams Lake is about to slow down.

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Lorne Doerkson is the Liberal MLA for the Cariboo-Chilcotin. (Black Press Media file photos)
MLA’s CORNER: Premier Horgan needs to work harder

There are lots of people out there who are in desperate need of assistance

The first Chimney Creek Roadhouse, constructed in 1864. (Photo courtesy of the B.C. Provincial Archives)
HAPHAZARD HISTORY: The Isnardy family of Williams Lake

Amadee Isnardy was born in 1840 near Nice, France

Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Quesnel Observer.
FOREST INK: Ecological economics not a popular topic for most people

The following is a review of the no (or slow) growth concept

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Most Read