How Toronto is 'at the lead' in the effort to save its bees

As the province battles the decline in wild bee and honeybee numbers, various Toronto initiatives are working to study and preserve the bee population.

As bee populations decline, various Toronto initiatives are working to protect the pollinators

Jode Roberts poses with pollinator-friendly wildflowers near Woodbine Beach. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

The city of Toronto is taking the lead in the fight to save local bee populations, according to one of the country's top environmental groups — at a time when the pollinators are suffering from the use of pesticides, habitat loss and a long, harsh winter.

The city has over 360 native species and is on the forefront of the fight against bee population decline with its newly-adopted pollinator protection strategy, according to Jode Roberts, manager and senior strategist of pollinator programs at the David Suzuki Foundation. 

"It's one of the strongest pollinator protection strategies in North America," Roberts said. "Toronto is really at the lead."

Toronto city council unanimously adopted the strategy last month, which helps support the native bee population through new policies, initiatives and resources. The strategy works to combat a number of threats — including the habitat loss and pesticide use that affect the pollinators playing a crucial role in producing Ontario's fruit and vegetable crops. 

Roberts's foundation also recently launched The Bees In My Backyard or BIMBY project with the help of the University of Toronto-Scarborough. The project trains Torontonians to identify native bees and provides them with the supplies to create wild bee sanctuaries in their yards. 

While the primary goal of the project is to study local bees with those participating reporting information back to the foundation, Roberts says it is also to bring attention to the existence and importance of wild bee species and to allow people to connect with Toronto's native insects.

"The focus has been on honeybees because you have these human beekeepers who notice when they disappear … [but] the wild bees are quietly disappearing in the background."

Tara Lapointe examines bees around the hive she keeps in her backyard. (Zak Markan/CBC)

Urban beekeeping

Over the years, Toronto's interest in protecting bees and hobby beekeeping has grown and beekeepers like Shawn Caza are reaping the rewards.

Along with running his local honey farm Toronto Honeys, Caza and his partner also teach others beekeeping through workshops. 

"There was a need," he told CBC Toronto. 

"We kept getting messages from people asking if they could learn, so we had a sense that there was an interest. There were also a lot of beekeepers who were starting up around me who didn't necessarily have access to mentorship."

Urban beekeeping is also a growing trend with several downtown rooftops housing hives, including the Fairmont Royal York and Shangri-La hotels, a number of the University of Toronto's buildings, the MaRS Centre and the CBC's Toronto headquarters, the Canadian Broadcasting Centre.

The bee hotel atop the Fairmont Royal York roof in Toronto attracts scores of wild pollinator bees. (Fairmont Royal York)

How you can help the bees

So what can you do to help the bees?

According to the city's pollinator protection strategy, while "individuals who want to help pollinators may pursue hobby beekeeping ... planting a pollinator garden is an easier and more effective way to support them."

The city's tips for creating a pollinator-friendly garden include: planting native plants and plants that continuously bloom from spring to fall, avoiding pesticides, minimizing garden manicuring, preventing the spread of invasive species, and providing a shallow dish of water. 

Also rather than calling an exterminator if you do see a bee hive or swarm developing on your property, there are a number of local bee rescues that humanely remove bees.