Simons department stores’ rooftop beehives designed to help bee populations

Click to play video 'Simons unveils 5 rooftop beehives' Simons unveils 5 rooftop beehives
Mon, Aug 13: La Maison Simons is creating a buzz around its new urban beekeeping project. As Global's Raquel Fletcher reports, the Quebec company has set up five rooftop beehives to help protect declining honeybee populations.

La Maison Simons is creating a buzz around its new urban beekeeping project.

The company has set up five rooftop beehives, joining a growing movement to protect declining honeybee populations.

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Honeybees are particularly susceptible to the use of some pesticides that can cause whole colonies to collapse. This year has been a particularly difficult year for honeybee populations after a long, cold winter devastated some colonies.

READ MORE: Alberta bee population feels impact of prolonged winter

Peter Simons, president of La Maison Simons didn’t have a particular passion for bees, but a new environmental initiative has drawn him in.

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“You’re sort of brought into this field of energy and positivism, and with people who are happy,” Simons said.

READ MORE: Officials call this the worst year in the history of beekeeping in Saskatchewan

Simons has partnered with a Quebec startup called Alvéole, which has helped the department store set up urban beehives on the roofs of its stores in Old Quebec, the Sainte-Foy location in Quebec City, Montreal, Laval and Toronto.

WATCH: Alvéole’ is a unique brand with a mission to connect people to nature through urban rooftop beekeeping

“I think it’s an engaging way to talk about an issue and to follow it and support a company that’s trying to do something about it,” Simons said.

READ MORE: Health Canada wants to phase out pesticides to save the bees

Rooftop and backyard hives have become somewhat of a trend, appearing on the roof of the Château Frontenac in Old Quebec and a public library in Pointe-Claire.  Alvéole sets up beehives in backyards and schools.

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Simons has designed clothing items, with the proceeds going to the bee project. This fall, Simons will sell the honey produced by the hives and donate the profits to charity.

READ MORE: Quebec tightens rules on pesticides

Simons said he expects to produce between 600 and 800 jars of honey to sell.

“I’ll also get candles and some lip balm,” he added.

“I mean, if the hives are here it’s because our customers supported the project. They believed in it,” Simons added. “I think it’s just fun to follow it through and to see the final product on the shelves.”

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However, some researchers caution that bringing honeybees into urban settings can actually put native bee species at risk.

“In Canada, we have over 800 native species of bees and none of them produce honey. None of them are honeybees,” explained Sheila Colla, assistant environmental studies professor at York University.

“People love bees, they want to conserve bees, but they really only know about honeybees,” she said.

Native bees can live in colonies with up to 200 individual bees, but colonies of honeybees (which were brought to Canada from Europe) can have as many as 50,000 bees, Colla explained. She said that means when competing for food, honeybees dominate.

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“And they’re not only taking food for the summer. They’re storing food for the winter … Beekeeping is a good hobby for people and it makes honey,” she said. “But if the aim is to conserve pollination and pollinators than beehives will never be the answer.”

Honeybees are not in risk of extinction, but the rusty patch bumble bee and yellow bandit bumblebee are, “so those species should probably be more of a focus,” she said.

Are urban beehives really the answer?

Colla said instead of hives, people can help by planting native flowers, trees and shrubs that bees can feed on.

The world of bees is a complicated one and while researchers are still trying to understand the factors causing populations to decline, Simons said he welcomes any fact-based debate.

He said he’s not convinced that urban rooftops are creating more harm than good, but he said, “I’m 100 per cent open to encouraging the conversation.”

He said it will help sensitize people to the plight of bee populations and in so doing, help to change those negative headlines.