How Central City is Saving the Bees

It’s not everyday you rub shoulders with a royal highness. Unless you are six stories above The Central City shopping centre and tower in Surrey BC, where there is a castle of sorts. Thomas Schmitz, President of The Surrey Beekeepers’ Association, says the rooftop beehive was funded by Central City, and installed last April, in the hopes of reviving the regions’ declining bee population.

“We did the initial test run with a small number of purchased honeybees to see if they could pollinate and return home to the hive,” says Thomas Schmitz.

I ask if wind eddies on the roof affect the flight of the bees.

“Yes,” he says. “We weren’t sure if the bees would be able to fly back up six stories to the hive at first, but they did it!” Thomas
says, like a proud coach. “Now there are between 40,000 and 60,000 bees returning to the hive.” The bees travel anywhere from 1km to 8km from the hive to Holland Park, Bear Creek Park, and the gardens in the neighbourhood of Central City. The bees pollinate the flowers and plants (like blueberries, blackberries, apples, and sunflowers) at these areas so that they can flourish as well as grow food.

50,000 Bees Can’t Be Wrong!!

“Part of the reason for installing the hive, was to educate people about bees, and train more beekeepers” says Thomas. The hive gifts a small amount of honey for personal use, but not a huge supply.

I ask Thomas the beekeeper if he is afraid of getting stung.

“No”, he says. “I only get stung if I do something stupid like squish one of them, and besides, bees are therapeutic”

“Like pets?” I ask.

“Yup,” he says

“Their hum has a calming effect when I work with them. And it changes. I can tell by the sound of their hum how comfortable they are.”

I feel like I’m talking to the Bee Whisperer.

The security guard escorts me up through the freight elevator, hallways and locked caged doors to the roof. I tell him it looks like a Hollywood movie set for a rooftop chase scene. He says movies have been filmed here.

I climb over the high step of the roof access door, and my dress blows up like Marilyn’s on the grate in the wind. I can’t decide whether I am more afraid of bees or heights. The guard fears neither, as he stretches his neck over the roof’s edge, surveying the plaza below where the noon hour concert is in progress.

“You can learn a lot from bees. I used to swat the bees away so they wouldn’t sting me, but they don’t mean to hurt me, and without them, we are in trouble.” Security Guard.

He has learned that we can’t survive without bees to pollinate a large percentage of our food supply.

When he takes the beekeepers to the hive, he wears the mask and helps with the bees, and is sometimes rewarded with a dose of the most blissful honey he has ever tasted. Occasionally, he is treated to a sighting of the star, the queen bee.

In front of the hive are water bowls which are filled with rocks to prevent the bees from drowning while drinking, but the water has evaporated in the hot weather. I empty my water bottle into one of the bowls, and the security guard thanks me. I ask him to take a picture of me beside the hive, but bees land on my arms, schooling me to back off or else! When I step back, they fly away.

On the plaza below, the singer in Central City’s Noontime Notes is singing a favorite song of mine: “Change is Gonna Come.” by Sam Cooke.

It’s been a long, long, time, but if we do something, like install a hive, or plant pollinating marigolds, or put out a water bowl, change is gonna come.

Follow the Surrey Beekeepers Association for more updates on the bees including this live video (below) they did last week:

Photos by Surrey Beekeepers Association