Thursday, June 24, 2010
Opera house starts new production in key of bee
Urban hives seen as way to reverse decline of hard-working honeybees
By Tobi Cohen, Canwest News Service May 23, 2010
The Canadian Opera Company is abuzz with the sound of bees.
Taking a cue from its world-famous counterparts in Paris, which began urban beekeeping 25 years ago, Toronto's new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts buzzed in its first black and yellow tenants this month.
Part of a blossoming movement that's taken hold across Europe and North America -- Manhattan just lifted a ban on beekeeping in March and Michelle Obama added them to her White House garden last year -- urban apiculture is touted as a means of boosting local food production, reversing the trend of declining bee populations and strengthening city gardens.
"When bees come to an urban setting, they avoid the pesticides that farmers use in the countryside," says Fred Davis, the man behind the Toronto project, adding the Paris opera house's "prolific pollinators" are now producing more honey per hive than their rural counterparts.
"They're doing wonderful things for the local environment in Paris ... I thought maybe I could replicate that in a similar setting.
"We've got all these urban gardens and flowers and trees. With the honeybees, they help strengthen, prolong and diversify all the green stuff we've got in our city."
The project started last fall when the commercial contract manager had a "eureka" moment while peering out the 15th-floor window of his downtown Toronto office building. Across the street, some storeys below, was the flat, loose stone roof of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
Home of the Canadian Opera Company, it got him thinking about a recent article he'd read about Paris's Palais Garnier and Opera Bastille -- believed to be the only opera houses in the world to house hives until now.
The amateur urban apiarist, who had already partnered with nearby Casa Loma to manage a pair of hives atop the historic Toronto castle, immediately set out to convince COC management that bees and La Boheme were a perfect match.
Little did he know that director Alexander Neef would be so easily sold.
"Before I came to the COC I had been working for the Paris opera for a few years," Neef said. "It didn't seem like a strange idea to me at all because I was used to having them."
Having just moved into its new digs a few years ago, the COC sees beekeeping as way to be a good neighbour.
Noting honeybees are dying off at an alarming rate -- the North American population has dropped about 30 per cent in three years -- Neef said the COC is proud to be among a handful of Toronto companies helping the insects recover their numbers.
They're also good for morale. "Ever since we've introduced them, the people in the company have really embraced them," Neef said. "They're a little bit like the company pets."
The Canadian Opera Company now boasts two hives which, by peak season, should each contain about 60,000 bees. They are expected to produce between 18 and 32 kilograms of honey.
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