Earth Matters Hospital blogs

Urban beekeeping: Honey bees arrive at Sunnybrook

beekeeper with bees

In early June, Sunnybrook was quite literally buzzing with activity as the newest residents arrived at the outer reaches of the Bayview campus. Thirty thousand honey bees in three hives now call Sunnybrook home.

June 22-28 is National Pollinator Week. Get to know more about these hard-working insects and their role at Sunnybrook. Michael Lithgow, Manager, Energy and Climate Action at Sunnybrook shares details below:

Why did Sunnybrook decide to install beehives at the Bayview campus?

The global bee population is unfortunately declining, and as a result urban beekeeping is on the rise. In many ways, cities can be an ideal location for beekeeping due to abundant flowering plants, fewer pesticides than rural areas, many sources of water… and hopefully few bears! In fact, Toronto became Canada’s first official “Bee City” in 2016. Sunnybrook wanted to support the bee population and also provide opportunities for staff and visitors to learn more about bees. Our large campus and plenty of green space is an added bonus.

Why are bees at risk and why are they important to the planet?

There are many factors behind the loss of bees. Climate change, pesticide use, loss of habitat, pollution, and parasites and predators are just some of the reasons. Bees are not only extremely important for humans, but also for entire ecosystems to function. Bees pollinate plants, allowing them to reproduce. These plants then contribute to the food system by feeding animals – aside from humans – such as birds and insects.

Photography by Kevin Van Paassen

Are there any other hospitals in Toronto that have beehives?

No other Toronto hospitals have hives, and we’re not currently aware of any other hospitals with honey bees in Canada. There are a few hospitals in the U.S. that host hives, and local non-hospital sites include places like U of T, Royal York Hotel, and the rooftop of several shopping malls.

Where are the beehives located at Bayview campus?

The hives are located on the hospital campus, about one kilometre away from the main hospital buildings.

beekeeper and beehives

Photography by Kevin Van Paassen


Who manages the hives and looks after the bees?

We have partnered with Fairhaven Farm to bring bees to Sunnybrook. Patricia, our beekeeper, routinely inspects the hives to ensure they are healthy.

How was this project funded?

There is no direct cost to Sunnybrook. In fact, we’re hoping to generate a modest revenue. In exchange for providing space for the beehives, Fairhaven will manage the hives and provide wholesale Sunnybrook-sourced honey to us for resale.

Do the bees produce honey? If so, what is done with it?

The bees will produce honey, and the amount of honey will depend on the weather. Generally the three hives can produce an average of 100-150 pounds of honey each a year. Once the hives are established, we plan to have the honey available for purchase in the Sunnybrook gift shop and at the vendor tables through Fairhaven Farm.


Photography by Kevin Van Paassen


Should people with bee sting allergies be nervous?

Honey bees don’t usually sting people unless they are provoked by individuals who interfere with the hive. The risk of a sting is no higher having honey bees on site, and the usual precautions should be taken by allergic individuals, like carrying an EpiPen and seeking immediate medical attention if stung. Bees are focused on the flowers. Wasps, on the other hand, are usually the ones that get close and personal, spoiling our picnics and barbecues.

Is there a plan to add more hives?

As the bee colonies grow, we can help them expand into new hives. We are fortunate to have plenty of space to expand if and when appropriate.

About the author

Laura Bristow

Laura is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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