Interview by Meghan Sheffield

Photography by Jeannette Breward

After a recent visit to the rooftop garden at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York, we were intrigued by the “bee hotels” we saw providing habitat for native species, alongside the hotel’s own honeybee hives. We spoke to Jacqueline Tyler, Fairmont Royal York’s Marketing and Communications Manager, and got some specialized info from Victoria Wojcik, Research Director at Pollinator Partnerships.

What kind of bees live on the the Royal York’s rooftop?

Our rooftop garden is home to six hives where approx. 350,000 honeybees live that will help us harvest approx. 900lbs of honey this year.  Our honeybees also assist in pollinating our herbs and vegetables found on the rooftop garden for ingredients that become a part of EPIC Dining Room’s recipes on its menu. Right next to the honey bees is the bee hotel; an inviting suite for many species solitary bees.

We have over 700 species of native bees in southern Ontario. It’s a bit hard to say how many are in Toronto, but it would be primarily leafcutter bees, mason bees, and some sweat bees. They are all small bees that make their nests in holes they find in the environment.

What is a bee hotel?

It’s the structure built for native bees to live in, made with bark and wood that were drilled with tiny holes.  They live in the hotels drilled into the wood pieces that are placed on the shelves of the hotel, and they bring in soft items to ‘plug’ the holes. That’s where the bees can live and be safe, when they’re flying around our rooftop garden.

In the bee hotel, the native, solitary bees, do in fact hibernate. In bee biology this is called “overwintering”. Either the egg, larva, or pupa will overwinter until the spring. When the weather is right the bee will continue to develop into an adult and then hatch out of the nest. The bee hotels offer the space needed for bees to overwinter. While the bee can in fact deal with the weather changes of the winter, the wood that they nest in buffers the extreme impacts of the weather.

Bees fill the holes with leaves or resins that they make on their bodies. They are also filling the holes with pollen which will be the food for the developing bee.

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Why did the Fairmont Royal York want to invest in the bee hotel project?

Fairmont has long been passionately involved in bee sustainability, for some time even before bees and hives became a trend. It’s important here at the Fairmont Royal York for Chef Robert Mills, to be working in a way that is authentically local, doing what we can to ensure sustainability. Bees pollinate 90% of food in the world.

Our chef is passionate about supporting the bees. He goes up and cares for the hives and garden with his other cooks daily. In season, he’ll be picking more of the ingredients to put on the menu for our EPIC dining room.

Any chance we have to be green and ecological in the urban environment, Chef’s all about it.

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Can guests visit the bee hotels?

Guests and members of the public can book Afternoon Tea on weekends, and our host will tour them around the rooftop garden and apiary as part of that experience. We love to host people there because we’ve been so excited to innovate and inspire with this beautiful space that was otherwise just paved with gravel.

When guests dine with us, they know everything is gathered by us and hand-selected from the finest ingredients, and that we’re working with local farmers. It helps out-of-town guests learn more about Toronto, and really connects them to the destination.

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