In the heart of Vancouver’s downtown waterfront 250,000 bees thrive on the rooftop apiary of the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel.

Chief beekeeper Julia Common helps watch over the hives and shares her passion for bees. Watch the video.

Rooftop beekeeping in Vancouver

How the honey is used

The Fairmont Waterfront Hotel uses 200 pounds of honey produced by its rooftop bees and an additional 400 pounds gathered through Hives for Humanity for many items served onsite. Their signature Rooftop Buzz beer, a honey Kölsch, is brewed by a local zero waste craft brewery, Bridge Brewing. The Waterfront West Coast Wild gin crafted from honey is made by Wayward Distillery, the first distillery in Canada to use honey as a base for all of their spirits. The distillery also makes small batches of Krupnik (a spiced honey liqueur) and a strawberry basil liqueur for the hotel.

In addition, the hotel makes burnt honey ice cream, desserts, salad dressings, jars of honey and dozens of other food items. The ARC restaurant offers a three course pollinator menu from May through September. The hotel’s BEE Sustainable package provides accommodation opening into the terrace garden, private rooftop tour, a jar of honey and a mason bee house to take home, and a $10 donation to Hives for Humanity to support the Pollinator Corridor Project.

A display of products made from rooftop bee hives of Vancouver's Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

A display of products made from rooftop honeybee hives of Vancouver Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Hives for Humanity

Julia Common, chief beekeeper at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver, is a co-founder of Hives for Humanity with her daughter Sarah Common.  The non-profit organization works on building healthy community connections through the culture of the hive. Their Hives for Humanity Bee Space moved in October 2018 to the old Vancouver Police Department Jail at 312 Main Street. This space provides an opportunity to keep the connection year round through low-barrier volunteer and employment creation in Wax Craft Program.

Through the Fairmont CAREs grant, the Fairmont Waterfront was able to sponsor this project and others. In the last four years, the hotel has provided nearly $30,000 in grant money to Hive for Humanity in addition to hiring them to tend to the bees and the garden.

Rooftop Garden and Honeybee Apiary

The Fairmont Waterfront rooftop herb garden (planted in 2005) and apiary (established in 2008) became one of the first downtown Vancouver green roofs. Originally created by Executive Chef Daryl Nagata, each new chef uses the garden in their own way. The crops grown are augmented with local farm produce or through organizations like Sole Food Farms who transform vacant urban land into street farms creating artisan quality food. Sole Food Farms helps provide low barrier job opportunities for the Downtown East Side.

Tours of the garden and apiary are conducted daily at 2 p.m. from May through September for hotel guests, locals and school children.

Built in 2015 the Rooftop Pollinator Hotel at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel provides a habitat for hundreds of bee species. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Built in 2015 the Rooftop Pollinator Hotel provides a habitat for hundreds of bee species. Photo Credit: Wendy Nordvik-Carr©

Fast Facts

  • Bees visit over 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey (source: Canadian Honey Council)
  • The four beehives on the rooftop house more than 250,000 honeybees.
  • North America has more than 4,000 bee species.
  • In 2014, mason bees were brought to the garden in partnership with Hives for Humanity as part of the Pollinator Corridor Project. At that time, 23 mason bee homes were placed throughout Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
  • Built in 2015, the Rooftop Pollinator Hotel provides a habitat for hundreds of bee species.
  • Mason bees are the easiest to raise and one of the greatest pollinators.
  • Mason bees nest in pre-made holes or nests.
  • In 2016, the Canadian Wildlife Federation recognized the rooftop garden as a Certified Wildlife Friendly Habitat.

Commitment to sustainability and social responsibility

The Fairmont Waterfront Hotel‘s commitment to sustainability and social responsibility is very impressive. Their efforts towards Vancouver’s “Greenest City” mission and the work they do to give back to the community and members of the DTES are to be commended. The initiatives they have made supporting programs for the local inner city schools makes a real difference in these children’s lives. Also of note, the hotel is dedicated to the OceanWise Plastic Wise Pledge and the zero waste goal to donate, sell, re-purpose, recycle and compost. They even recycle approximately 1,500 sheets each year to local shelters.

The hotel already composts all their food waste, but hopes to reduce it further by 30 per cent this year by providing surplus foods to local charities to make sure it gets eaten. They have partnered with La Tablée des Chefs.

When I asked them if they had more plans for the future, they replied, “We like to think big, maybe a Fairmont farm?.. we’ll have to wait and see.”

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