What's the buzz? Montreal's Alvéole spreads to U.S., other provinces

Alvéole works with businesses and schools to help them raise bees and lead beekeeping workshops in Montreal and an ever-growing list of other cities.

Since launching in 2012, business has expanded to Quebec City, Toronto, Ottawa, Chicago, Vancouver, Calgary

Beekeeper Emily McBean carefully removes a frame from one of the hives at CBC Montreal. (Elysha Enos/CBC)

A young girl jumps and hides behind her father as a swarm of bees emerges from their hive under the watch of an Alvéole beekeeper.

The child's reaction is what the Alvéole team is working to change through their beehive rental service and workshops.

Beekeeper Emily McBean said people are raised to be scared of bees — what she calls a "hypothetical fear."

"We're given so many negative suggestions and feelings growing up," she said.

A trio of beekeepers who'd been working in Manitoba launched Alvéole in 2012, after arriving in Montreal and noticing no one in the city kept bees.

They loved beekeeping, McBean said, "and no one had access to it."

They were confident that exposing others to the benefits of having bees would create a more bee-friendly city. 

It's a symbiotic relationship: bees thrive in cities like Montreal, with its strict anti-pesticide laws, and as they go about their business making honey, they pollinate flower and vegetable gardens.

Alvéole now oversees 600 hives in Montreal. It also rents out hives in Quebec City and Toronto, and this year Alvéole, added Ottawa, Chicago, Vancouver and Calgary to its list. 

A single hive can produce as much as 100 140-gram jars of honey.

Beekeeper Emily McBean said people are raised to be scared of bees – a “hypothetical fear.” 1:25

McBean stood in front of this hive — one of six on the first-floor roof of Maison Radio-Canada — without any protective netting or gear, manipulating the hive's compartments bare-handed, as hundreds of bees buzzed around her.

"These bees are very chill. They just buzz around, ask what's happening," McBean said.

McBean said she gets stung two or three times a week, usually at the end of the day when she's not being as careful.

Since bees die when they sting someone, they'll basically do it only if they think the hive is under threat.

McBean smoked the hive to block the "intruder alert" message that the bees send each other via their pheremones.

"It's like blurring their wifi system," said Laurence Hamelin, Alvéole's manager of communications. "It keeps them calm and under control."

Once the bees had left the hive, McBean opened it up, removing the frames to inspect the honeycomb while the bees flew around her passively.

Alvéole mission includes education and undoing people's fear of bees. (Elysha Enos/CBC)

Alvéole works with businesses and schools to take care of their hives and lead workshops. 

The team will also help with honey collection and print custom labels designed by the hosts to put on their honey jars.

"It's such a gateway to thinking about what food we're producing and what we're eating, and how can we be more sustainable with our food," McBean said.

She said a lot of people who reach out to the company about getting a hive on their property typically want to feel more connected to nature.

Alvéole believes it also encourages people to become more aware of a sustainable lifestyle.

"The concept is so simple: putting hives on roofs," McBean said. "It really is about awareness, education, thinking about where our food comes from — honeybees are just the start of that."

About the Author

Elysha Enos


Elysha Enos is a journalist with CBC Montreal.


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