Most cities in North America at one time banned the keeping of bees on residential lots. In theory it made sense (but not good sense): people didn’t want insects flying around their heads, especially ones that could sting you.
But in recent years, the pendulum has swung as urban stealth beekeepers who kept secret hives lobbied to change the laws. With education many municipalities have come to recognize the tremendous value of these pollinators. They are beginning to understand bees can be kept safely without being a threat to neighbours, as long as certain rules are followed.
When it comes to keeping bees in urban areas, most Metro Vancouver municipalities are pretty progressive. Led in part by Vancouver’s decision in 2003 to bring in a bylaw regulating urban beekeeping, many municipal councils have taken the approach that it’s better to regulate where beehives can go than to turn a blind eye and wait for a complaint.
Let’s be clear. Even without bylaws beekeepers have kept hives in cities. Burnaby, which recently brought in a bylaw, had upwards of 100 beekeepers – what I call “guerilla beekeepers” – who quietly tended their hives and kept a low profile.
The most notable changes now can be seen in Vancouver, where there are beehives on the roof of City Hall’s East Wing. Vancouver Courier columnist Allen Garr also has some on the roof of the Vancouver Convention Centre, and the Waterfront Hotel across the street has rooftop garden hives that produce honey for their kitchens. Oddly, Garr is allergic to bees but doesn’t let that stop him.
There are still some municipal holdouts. One of those is Pitt Meadows, whose origin is entirely agricultural but now is also a suburban bedroom community. It allows the keeping of bees in its remaining agricultural areas but continues to man the ramparts within residential areas. This spring Jaquie Bunse, the provincial government’s Fraser Valley apiary inspector – and perhaps one of the people most familiar with the interaction problems bees can cause – tried to help Pitt Meadows council understand regulating and allowing beehives was better than turning a blind eye. Council is still studying the matter.
Most municipalities in the Metro Vancouver area permit the keeping of urban beehives under strict but not onerous conditions.
New Westminster, where we live, changed the law a few years back and now allows limited numbers of hives based on lot size and zoning.
The basic rule is that if the beehives are to be sited within a certain distance of your property line, you have to build a six-foot fence. That means that when the bees exit their hive, they have to fly over the fence, well clear of your neighbour’s head. You also must register your hives with the provincial apiculture office.
In our case, we can have two hives and two nucleus colonies. When we built our garage we modified it to include a second-story balcony to house the hives. They are at least 10 feet off the ground overlooking the lane and well away from our neighbours.
How we designed this apiary and what you should take into consideration for your own hives is the subject for another story.