Urban beekeeping is kinda hot. Vancouverites are on board. New Yorkers have followed suit. Torontonians, too, have started to get wise to the benefits of city buzzers, with some bee-friendly spots scattered throughout the city. A rule in the Ontario Bees Act, however, is making it difficult for urban apiarists to freely tend backyard hives. The act states that bees are not to be kept within thirty metres of a property line, which would make beekeeping a bit tricky in a city that can sometimes resemble a glass-‘n’-concrete residential shelving unit. But there are some who have managed it.
The Fairmont Royal York hotel got much buzz when they kept rooftop honey bees in creatively named hives and used the homespun honey in various dishes served at their restaurant.
Last year, New College at the University of Toronto enlisted the help of Brian Hamlin, beekeeper extraordinaire—Hamlin’s the one leading the workshop, at the Toronto Portlands Energy Centre, in the photos accompanying this article—to install some hives on the rooftop of their 45 Wilcox residence (seen here getting the New College bees ready for winter). Krishan Mehta, director of advancement at New College, is enthusiastic that this simple act of food sustainability could rev consciousness among students.
“Having hives in our unit shows students how an urban landscape can mesh with sustainable food production,” says Mehta. “The bees are pretty low maintenance to keep and yield such a great return.”
With such a positive outcome, Mehta thinks it would be great if U of T would consider expanding the project.
“It would be great if other units on campus had hives; they’re great for the environment. And we use the honey in our cafeteria,” says Mehta. “Having the students know that they’re eating their own backyard honey is really neat!”
Janet Tam, a research member of the Tech-Transfer Program (TTP) with the Ontario Beekeepers Association, has also noticed a growing interest among urbanites in learning about beekeeping, noting that the participation rate of the TTP beekeeping workshops has been on a steady incline.
“We had eight workshops last year and the attendance was pretty good,” she says from her office in Guelph. “This year we have eleven and we’ve had to introduce waiting lists.”
For anyone in and around the city interested in learning about beekeeping, this is a great place to start. (Their Guelph intro class is now full, but if you can round up twenty-four friends and strangers interested in the apiary arts, they’ll see what they can do. Just tell them Torontoist sent you, even if mentioning Torontoist won’t get you a discount or any special treatment.)
Still, newfound beekeeping knowledge can’t do Torontonians much good when we’re faced with the restrictions of the Ontario Bees Act, which would cancel out the many fantasies of urban rooftop hives. Just as those city dwellers without a backyard sought out public space to grow vegetables, though, so too should those without legal space to tend honey bees seek public areas to keep hives.
Of course, there are community concerns with beekeeping in parks or other neighbourhood public spaces, such as fear of vandalism or the worry of neighbours with bee allergies. But what about keeping hives in segregated public spaces, like the expansive hydro fields found across the city? That would keep hives far enough away from the core of any neighbourhood to dispel threats but close enough to involve the interested urban community in the pleasure of tending bees and enjoying the harvest.
If an interest in urban beekeeping becomes stronger, the outdated Act may need revisiting—though if urban bee hives are allowed to flourish in the city, a new Act may be needed to restrict animal pest infestation. One thing at a time.
Photos by Joel Charlebois/Torontoist.