New Brunswick

Beekeeper turns abandoned school into winter home for bees

A beekeeper on the Acadian Peninsula is breathing new life into a dilapidated elementary school by moving in his hives.

Guy Noël says former Etoile du Nord school is the perfect spot for his hives

A beekeeper on the Acadian Peninsula is breathing new life into a dilapidated elementary school by moving in his hives.

"We just take that for storage for now, so it can be good," says Guy Noël. "The structure is in good shape."

Guy Noël bought Etoile du Nord from a private investor to use as a winter home for his bees. He plans to keep the old school's sign as a nod to the building's history (Bridget Yard/CBC)
Etoile du Nord was the last school to operate on Miscou Island and closed in 2003. Now, children from the community travel across the bridge to Lameque for school.

Neighbourhood vandals have destroyed Etoile du Nord's interior and have painted graffiti all over the walls. The building's copper wiring has also been stolen.

Noël says he can see past the disrepair. He had been on the lookout for a large warehouse to winter his bees and curb appeal wasn't part of the criteria. So he bought the former school from a private investor.

"We get the opportunity to buy that to centralize our stuff in the same area, the same place."

Noël owns Pollinisation Péninsule, a beekeeping business that, at first, was meant to help pollinate their blueberry crop. 

"My father has a small blueberry field, maybe four acres, and for the small producers, they can get bees," he says.

After researching the subject, and learning of the population decline in the species, Noël decided to devote himself to beekeeping. He even took a course in Quebec to become a better beekeeper.

Noël says he only knows of 10 other beekeepers in the region and most are blueberry growers supporting their crops. Most import hives from other provinces every year and it's a challenge to keep healthy hives.

 "We have to treat for mites and check for some diseases," says Noël.

Pollinisation Peninsule has hives in Lameque, Miscou, and Sainte-Marie-Saint-Raphael (Submitted by Guy Noel)
Pollinisation Péninsule sells honey most of the year and the business is growing. Noël wants to protect his hives and grow the population and that means somehow getting through the harsh northern New Brunswick winter.

"We're going to winterize our bees inside, if we can," says Noël.

He estimates that every winter, he loses 29 per cent of his bees to the elements. When he makes the move to the school, he says that number will be closer to 19 per cent.

The building is under construction for the next few months. Noël has already cleared several classrooms this summer and is working on the hallways.

The school's gymnasium is mostly intact, and he plans to rent it out to people in the area for storage.

Etoile du Nord doesn't have to look pretty to be useful.

"We're going to extract, maybe condition the honey before the extraction. We are just preparing all our stuff for the next season."

The bees will be winterized outdoors this year in Lameque, but Noël hopes to make the move inside next year.

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