Originally published on Torontoist on September 29, 2009.
We can picture it now—a giant, disembodied head floating in the locker room of Maple Leaf Gardens, hovering near his microphone as he interviews battle-scarred hockey players preparing to dazzle the rest of the country with their skills over the airwaves on Saturday night. Interviewees were too focused on the game ahead to notice the lack of a body…
Sportscaster Wes McKnight (1909–1968) began his association with CFRB in 1928. Four years later, a chat with Charlie Conacher of the Leafs launched his long-running Bee Hive–sponsored Saturday night hockey interview series. Players received twenty-five dollars for appearing on the show, which aired before Hockey Night in Canada (CFRB simulcast the radio version, where McKnight appeared on the Hot Stove League show during intermissions, with CBC for many years). Besides hockey, McKnight also provided play-by-play for Toronto Argonauts matches and golf tournaments and offered a daily sports commentary. He wound down his radio career in the early 1960s as an executive at CFRB, retiring two years before his death.
As for McKnight’s sponsor, the St. Lawrence Starch Company produced Bee Hive corn syrup and other corn-based products in Port Credit for a century. For a couple of generations of hockey fans, the company was best known for the free player photos it offered as a mail-in promotion from 1934 to 1967. The offer was wildly successful, as up to twenty-five hundred requests a day passed through the company’s headquarters. Photos shot in Toronto were mostly taken by the Turofsky brothers.
Money proved to be the nail in the coffin for Bee Hive photos—teams were paid little for photo rights, while players were compensated, at least in the 1940s, with a six-pack of corn syrup at the start of the season. As a letter sent out to disappointed customers in 1967 noted:
It is not without some regret that we take this step, having over the years supplied millions of these pictures to hockey fans across Canada, but steadily rising costs have brought us to the point of no return. Fees for picture rights demanded by the N.H.L. clubs have gone out of all reason; clerical wages and salaries are much higher, cost of producing the pictures themselves and the envelopes has increased and, finally, postage has increased by 25%.
Production ceased at the Port Credit plant in 1990. The site at Hurontario Street and Lakeshore Road is currently home to mixed developments, though the St. Lawrence name lingers via a street and a park.