The buzz around town

Beekeeping association asks municipalities to review urban bee policies

Kevin Curley
Published on September 16, 2015

Part two of a two part series

Having the world’s only disease-free bees has garnered Newfoundland international attention, but some rules at home have stung the industry.

While a newly formed beekeeping association is trying to build interest and educate the public, members say they find themselves hindered by municipal laws.

Members of the association say much of North America and beyond have long since embraced urban beekeeping, yet recently in Corner Brook a beekeeper of 25 years was evicted after complaints from a neighbour.

Clarenville received complaints of a bee farm on Clearview Drive last November. Council notified the owner and told him bee farming is not allowed within town limits.

Mike Paterson of Amherst Cove has been beekeeping for five years. He uses the honeybees to help pollinate crops used for his daughter’s restaurant, the Bonavista Social Club. The honey is also used in their food.

There are several homes within close proximity of Paterson’s, but he said he went door-to-door explaining honeybees when he got started and hasn’t had any problems.

“I made an effort on the outset to talk to my neighbours just so there wouldn’t be questions. I am constantly identifying for them around town on plants in the community which are my bees and which are not. They are not wasps. Honeybees are not a threat in any way to people,” Paterson told The Packet.

“Wasps are carnivores. They’re a different animal altogether and honeybees are not interested in stinging anyone.”

Paterson says a misunderstood perception surrounding honeybees could be the motivation behind municipalities that do not yet allow beekeeping within town limits.

“I’d say that all communities will get there eventually once they become progressive enough and understand the situation and communicate that to the citizens of the community,” Paterson said.

“It’s all about education, and all across North America cities allow urban beekeeping. It’s in every city in North America right now, so the fact that any particular city in Newfoundland doesn’t allow it is a little bit backwards.”

Paterson said he is confident the laws will soften in time with the right people and the right pushes to make it happen.

“But you want to do it softly and education is probably the biggest thing. It’s for people to understand how important it is to have the bees everywhere. It is a benefit for anyone and there are in fact no downsides to having honeybees in your community,” Paterson said.

Peter Armitage of Portland got into beekeeping this summer. He is also a member of the Newfoundland Beekeeping Association and agrees with Paterson some public education is needed.

Throughout the summer, Armitage would enjoy his lunch on a bench six feet from his colony without fear of being stung.

“I work the hive and put sugar syrup in the back of the hive. I don’t suit up and I don’t even wear a shirt in the hot weather,” Armitage told The Packet.

“I find people don’t know the difference between a honeybee and all of the other flying insects. If someone gets stung, they’ll think it’s a bee, but they can’t tell you if it’s a bumblebee, yellowjacket or a wasp.”

He points to the Fairmount Waterfront in Vancouver as a famous example of urban beekeeping. The Fairmount Waterfront is a luxury hotel with 500,000 resident honeybees on its rooftop gardens.

“There’s a Newfoundlander out in Fairmount Waterfront (Dana Hauser). She’s one of the top chefs out there; they have a rooftop garden and beehives on top of the fancy hotel. Paris opera house has hives on top. So many places allow beekeeping in cities, sometimes with a restriction, but at least they allow beekeeping,” Armitage said.

In summer Armitage said his community of Portland has 50 species of wild and feral bees. There are also yellow jacket/wasps.

“It’s a great year for all these types of insects. If I was to walk through the goldenrod at the moment, I’d probably get stung, but it wouldn’t be by a honeybee. There’s any number of insects, bumblebees and what not,” he says.

Coun. Bill Bailey was chairman of the public works department at the time when a Clarenville resident was asked to remove his hive from town limits last fall.

“Someone had a bee hive there on their back deck, or somewhere close to their back deck, and their next door neighbour was complaining about it. They said someone got stung, but whether that’s factual is highly unlikely,” Bailey told The Packet.

Bailey said he would be interested in revisiting the town’s policy concerning beekeeping.

“We would have to change some of our policies on that. Especially with the worldwide bee population being decimated for some reason, but they are flourishing here in Newfoundland,” Bailey said.

“We’ve had a brief discussion at council and I’ve talked to other councillors about it. We don’t see a problem with it. We haven’t brought it up officially in council in a meeting yet but I’m going to have a little chat about it.”

As for Paterson, he hopes more people will see how honey beekeeping is a great thing for the world, and even more important here because of Newfoundland’s unique situation. He points out the province is a bee sanctuary and the rest of the world is starting to realize this is the one place left that is totally disease free.

“That is so incredible. Especially when the whole world’s population of bees is under threat. It makes us a place that will make us sought after by people who want to study bees as a possible supplier to the rest of the world. But we have to build up our numbers, we need expertise,” Paterson said.

“We need community support. We need municipal support and we need government support. We really hope people understand what an incredible thing we have here. It is such an amazing experience; it makes me really see my relationship to the natural world. I watch my bees and I see them going to the flowers and it makes a real connection to your environment. When you’re involved with bees on a first-hand basis you see the magic of the whole thing.”