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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Toronto Urban Bees

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The Toronto Beekeepers Cooperative is abuzz with excitement with their recent win at the Green Toronto’s Environmental Awards of Excellence in the Local Food category. The cooperative has grown to almost 60 members since it was established 10 years ago. Its honey is extracted, jarred, and sold at Foodshare, ensuring the most pure and local honey you can get.

Urban bees are everywhere in Toronto: on top of the Royal York Fairmont Hotel, Four Seasons Centre, New College at the University of Toronto, on the Islands, and on Leslie Split — in addition to the individually owned and managed hives in backyards and rooftops. The Cooperative’s bees currently reside in Downsview Park after a few moves around and out of the city. Originally the hives were almost underneath the Gardiner Expressway — close enough to the Don Valley to give the bees access to a diverse range of pollinating plants. Favouring a diversity of plant life with few pesticides, urban bees have a place where they can thrive compared to those in rural, agricultural habitats, where monocultures (large plots of only one type of crop) and the use of pesticides are more common. In fact, the cooperative’s bees were moved to a rural location after construction evicted them from the spot under the highway and the colony did not fare as well until it returned to its urban environment — first the Brick Works and now Downsview Park.

John and Fran, two of the beekeepers I spoke with, illustrated for me the unique ways that the bees function in a colony. Describing the bees as curious, incredible, and excellent organizers, I could not help but get excited about bees. The calmness that comes with working with a hive is mandatory — sending jittery vibes to 60,000 bees protecting their hive is not recommended! The calmness, however, is also induced by the gentle humming of the hive and the unique character of the bees. John and Fran described how a beekeeper could tell the mood of the hive depending on the frequency of the buzzing from the hive. A content hive hums at about a B below middle C frequency which will fluctuate if the hive feels threatened or if does not have a queen. Bees are unlikely to sting unless there is an immediate threat, unlike their wasp or hornet counterparts, and when they do need to sting, it will eviscerate the bee.

Bees not only thrive in cities, they also make them stronger — want bigger tomatoes in your garden? More cherries on your trees? Bring on the bees! For an individual to have a colony, Provincial laws state that a colony must be 30 m from neighbouring properties. This is not likely possible in many areas of Toronto, so talking to your neighbour beforehand to avoid a nuisance complaint is a good call. Incorporating bees into the urban landscape is just another way to create a more resilient city that embraces symbiotic relationships.

Photo by Toronto Beekeepers Co-operative



  1. Nice article. I wish Toronto had more progressive laws about backyard, urban beekeeping. European cities, Vancouver, to name a few, all allow backyard bees – and everyone is happy and thriving. Given that bees numbers are drastically reducing, and have such an important impact on our food production, we need bees wherever we can.