Bee City Canada- Reinventing Urban Spaces

Over the past year, a slow hum has been moving west across Canada, building energy along the way.  This hum is about to turn into a roar and at heart of it are our beloved bees. Since 2012 Bee City USA has been enlisting cities to take an active role in pollinator stewardship by raising awareness, enhancing habitats and celebrating conservation achievements. In 2016 it expanded across the border and has already certified three members of Bee City Canada; Toronto, Chestermere and Kamloops. We wanted to find out what it means to become a Bee City and the impact these cities hope to have on their citizens and pollinators.

Since 2012 Bee City USA has been enlisting cities to take an active role in pollinator stewardship by raising awareness, enhancing habitats and celebrating conservation achievements

The City of Toronto has been involved, for many years, in habitat creation and enhancement. One of their most notable initiatives being the banning of City pesticide use in 2003. Since then, the City decided to incorporate a Pollinator Protection Plan into their Biodiversity Strategy. 

A few years ago, the team in charge of the plan was approached by Bee City USA to see if they were interested in becoming Canada’s first Bee City. It was a natural fit. The requirements worked well with their existing strategy and didn’t require significant changes to policy, operations or budget. Patricia Landry, representative for the program, explains, “Having the Bee City designation makes us accountable to continue with existing programs and initiatives that support pollinators but it also inspires us to build on those current initiatives … and create new programs or projects.”

Having buy-in from management and policy-makers was critical for pursuing the application and ensuring program longevity. Landry says educating decision-makers was key.  “We started with a staff training seminar, in which we brought in top experts from the scientific community, native plant community and public educators.  It was a great success and it ignited the questions and ideas about how we can help from a staff perspective, but also how we can work with the public.”

Toronto’s current programs still have a heavy focus on public education and habitat creation. Each year, councillors host Environment Days in their Wards and this year plan to provide habitat creation info, plant lists and seeds for attendees. In summer, children’s eco camps highlight pollination and ecosystems to foster an appreciation of natural areas within the city. These initiatives will also extend to private land owners and businesses in the form of a Best Practices Manual including lists of pollinator-friendly native plants.

“Having the Bee City designation makes us accountable to continue with existing programs and initiatives that support pollinators but it also inspires us to build on those current initiatives … and create new programs or projects.”

The City also has a few pollinator habitats and works with other organizations to support community-lead initiatives. One of these, “The Bee Line”, is a collaboration with Park People that will create patches of habitat to form a pollinator corridor between existing city parks. Landry stresses the importance of considering all pollinators in these initiatives. “We need to bring a deeper awareness about our native pollinators … there are 364 species of native bees in Toronto several of which are at risk, and there are another 800 or more other pollinators such as flies, wasps, beetles, moths and butterflies and others.”

Closer to home, Alberta’s newest city, Chestermere, recently became Canada’s second Bee City.

The project was initiated by Preston Pouteaux, a local Pastor and founding member of the Chestermere Honey Bee Society. He had recently worked with the City to develop a set of hobbyist beekeeping guidelines to remove barriers and provide information about responsible honey bee management within the City.

Pouteaux had heard about the recent designation of Toronto as Canada’s first Bee City and felt that the bee stewardship ‘iron was hot’. He approached several councilors and community members and, within hours, had received enthusiastic responses across the board. The journey toward becoming a Bee City had begun!

Closer to home, Alberta’s newest city, Chestermere, recently became Canada’s second Bee City.

Pouteaux describes the Bee City designation and application process as aspirational. There isn’t a huge financial commitment up front, which is a significant concern for smaller municipalities. It’s about determining your values as a community and to make commitments about the kind of city you want to create. “It’s about getting municipalities to think differently about the decisions they make, ensuring that pollinators are part of the equation.”

Pouteaux believes strongly in the connection between bees and communities, explaining that we can all learn from how bees work together; caring for each and every bee, giving back to the environment and considering the greater good of the entire hive. “If you can start to pay attention to and care for the smallest members of your community it becomes easier to recognize the needs of others and care for them as well”.

The proposal received unanimous approval from council and in the summer of 2016, received its official designation. Chestermere’s biggest project for 2017 is a collaboration between the City, Province and numerous donors and volunteers to create a feature garden on the site of the Chestermere Centre for Community Leadership. Approximately six hectares, the garden will include an orchard, edible gardens and pollinator gardens. The space will serve as an inspirational community hub, demonstrating how to incorporate nature into neighbours’ yards and greenspaces.

There is already a lot of buzz about potential new Bee Cities across the country, could your city be next?

When asked if he had any advice for Bee City hopefuls, Pouteaux is quick to encourage; “If Toronto can do it, anyone can!” He acknowledges that Toronto is a huge City with dozens of councillors and departments, all who must come together and juggle differing priorities. Small municipalities are a little simpler, “it’s easy to call up your representative and meet for coffee”. Community-lead initiatives can quickly attract the attention of City officials who can take things a step further.

Both Chestermere and Toronto show how the Bee City designation can allow City staff and administration to take on the role of leader in the community; demonstrating how to create spaces that consider the needs of pollinators and other members of our natural environment. There is already a lot of buzz about potential new Bee Cities across the country, could your city be next? To learn more visit the Bee City website and write to your councillor!

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