Oh honey! Fort Chipewyan purchases thousands of honeybees

The community recently purchased 100,000 honeybees from British Columbia, and word is they could eventually be used to harvest honey and beeswax.

The community hopes to eventually harvest its own honey and beeswax, says councillor

Beekeeper trainees help transfer Fort Chipewyan's honeybees to their hives. (Submitted by Courtenay Clark)

Several thousand tiny new residents of Fort Chipewyan are causing a buzz around town.

The community recently purchased 100,000 honeybees from British Columbia, and word is they could eventually be used to harvest honey and beeswax.

"It happened very quickly," said Michelle Voyageur, a councillor with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

"We were thinking the bees wouldn't come until June, but … our project manager contacted us and said, 'Hey, we've come into some honeybees. They're ready to go. We're going to buy 'em.'"

This is how the bees arrived in Fort Chipewyan. (Submitted by Courtenay Clark)

Tackling food security and helping the bees

The bees are part of a two-year pilot project.

According to Voyageur, the First Nation and a group of companies it works with applied for funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada.

They ended up with enough money for 10 hives.

The hope is that the bee project will help improve food security in the community, where Voyageur says groceries are "very, very expensive."

It's also an economic development opportunity, and a chance to help revitalize the bee population.

"We're super excited that we're playing our part in reclamation, pollination," said Voyageur. "And hopefully we're going to be having a lot more berries and things like that around our community."

Michelle Voyageur inspects the hive, looking for the queen bee. (Submitted by Courtenay Clark)

Beekeepers in training

But the community isn't doing it alone.

An expert beekeeper from B.C. with 55 years of experience has been helping them out.

"He's come into the community and he's teaching people how to be beekeepers," said Voyageur.

"After we go through all of this training, we're going to get a certificate and we're going to be certified as honeybee keepers."

Voyageur said about seven people are involved in the project right now, but more are always welcome.

"As we're talking about the project, more and more people are becoming interested," she said. "We're able to bring them on and give them the education that they need to help us maintain the hives."

Bee expert Kerry Clark and beekeeper-in-training Morgan Voyageur move the bees into their hives. (Submitted by Courtenay Clark)

Honey could be harvested, sold locally

Voyageur said the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is in the process of opening a grocery store. It's possible the community could sell its own honey there in the future.

"I think our honey is going to be labelled wildflower honey," she said. "One of the things we learned is, depending on where the bees are and what type of plants are available, that will determine what kind of honey you have."

But for now, the bees have work to do.

"They have to build up their hives to get themselves ready for winter," said Voyageur, who learned in her training that these bees don't hibernate, but instead "huddle together" to keep themselves warm during cold months.

"We're going to do our best to make sure that our honeybees do well and that they thrive, and they can survive the winter."

With files from Lawrence Nayally