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Thirteen beehives — one for each province and territory — sit atop the Senate of Canada Building, offering homes to 750,000 honey bees. The beehives are managed by staff from the nearby Fairmont Château Laurier as part of a joint sustainability project launched last year.
Thirteen beehives — one for each province and territory — sit atop the Senate of Canada Building, offering homes to 750,000 honey bees.
The Senate of Canada, a beehive of activity? Remarkably, yes.
Thirteen hives — each one decorated with the painted flag of a province or territory — now sit atop the newly renovated Senate of Canada Building in downtown Ottawa. They’re home to 750,000 honey bees.
The hives were installed last May as part of the Senate’s relocation to the former Government Conference Centre, a move necessitated by the decade-long renovation project on Parliament Hill.
The bees have flourished in their new surroundings: The Senate colonies have grown rapidly from an initial population of 100,000.
“We understand the bees are doing quite, quite well,” said Thierry Montpetit, senior director of the National Capital Region at Public Services and Procurement Canada. “I think even the beekeeper who was part of the team taking care of them was pleasantly surprised.”
Staff from the nearby Fairmont Château Laurier manage the hives. The harvested honey will be used as part of culinary dishes served at the hotel.
Government officials approached the hotel with the partnership idea after learning that Fairmont operated rooftop apiaries at some of its other facilities in Canada. Since the Château’s roofline does not lend itself to an apiary, federal officials offered a site at the temporary Senate building.
“We thought that maybe it’s a way to raise awareness on the importance of bees in an urban environment — and to educate people about the importance of a healthy bee population,” Montpetit said.
The country’s bee population has been in decline for years.
According to Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), no single factor has been identified as the cause of that decline. A number of factors could be at play, the PMRA said in a recent report , including loss of habitat and food sources, viruses, pests and pesticide exposure.
This past week, a study published in the journal Biological Sciences found that crop yields in British Columbia and the United States were being damaged by a lack of honey bees and wild bees.
The study, published Tuesday, assessed more than 130 farms growing apples, blueberries, cherries, almonds, pumpkins and watermelon. It found that blueberries in B.C. were among the crops most affected by the reduced number of pollinators.
Last year, a University of Maryland study found that U.S. beekeepers lost nearly 40 per cent of their honey bee colonies in the previous winter. It was the worst decline in 13 years.
In Canada, the commercial value of bees to the pollination of crops has been estimated at more than $2 billion. About one-third of all our food comes from plants that rely on bees and other pollinators: flies, butterflies, moths, beetles and hummingbirds.
In Canada, between 2006 and 2014, annual bee colony losses were consistently higher than the normal rate of 10 to 15 per cent. In 2008, the losses reached a high of 35 per cent.
In 2012, Health Canada’s PMRA investigated and found that the mortality rate was made worse by exposure to a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The Ontario government subsequently ordered famers to reduce their use by 80 per cent, while the PMRA worked to ensure that growers who used them did so in a way that better protected bees.
In May 2015, a Senate standing committee issued a 71-page report on bee health in Canada. It made nine recommendations, including a call for beehive-safe pesticides.
Last year, after reviewing neonicotinoids, Health Canada cancelled its use on some crops, such as orchard trees, and limited the spraying of other crops, such as berries and fruiting vegetables, to when they’re not in bloom.
Honey bees are not native to North America. They were imported from Europe more than 400 years ago because of their ability to produce large quantities of honey and wax.
Canada has more than 800 native bee species, including the common eastern bumble bee, which is bigger and hairier than the honey bee. Eight of Canada’s wild bee species are considered to be at-risk, including the rusty-patched bumble bee and the gypsy cuckoo bumble bee, both of which are classified as endangered.
Unlike Canada’s Senate, beehives are female-dominated. Out of tens of thousands of honey bees in a typical colony, only a few hundred are male drones, whose primary job is to mate. For them, it’s a perilous adventure : If a drone successfully inseminates the queen during a mating flight, his barbed reproductive organ is ripped from his body, killing him. His appendage, known as an endophallus, stays inside the queen.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020