On Wednesday, June 29, a large group of tiny guests arrived at their destination late, checking in at 11 p.m. at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel.
The entourage – 1,440,000 honeybees boxed in 36 colonies – was on a working holiday of sorts at the Sea Island Conservation Area in Richmond.
It’s the second year that John Gibeau has brought his bees to the hotel, part of a three-year agreement to provide the hotel’s kitchen with honey produced from the nectar of wildflowers in the area.
In 2010, 24 colonies on the site produced about 2,200 lbs. of honey.
For the last several years, Gibeau, owner of Cloverdale’s Honeybee Centre, has provided 10 colonies to the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver. This year, he also brought five colonies by ferry to the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria.
At YVR, the bees have been situated about 400 metres north of the hotel.
The bee colonies at the two other Fairmont hotels are on the premises.
As for last year’s sweet harvest, “it’s all gone,” says Gibeau, whose company jars the honey for the executive chefs at all three hotels. “They used it all up.”
In downtown Vancouver, the 10 bee colonies are situated in the hotel’s third-floor garden next to the swimming pool. At Victoria’s Empress, the five colonies are fenced off on the front lawn – sometimes visited by a groundhog, whose burrow lays between the boxes.
Gibeau says the unique foliage around the sites makes for honeys with different colours, aromas and flavours – with the cultivated flowers in Victoria making for a spicier, more apple-flavoured honey. He says the wildflowers in Richmond and the cultivated plants in Vancouver for some reason make honeys that are similar to one another.
The hotels are just a small portion of the beekeeping business for Gibeau, a former police officer and member of a family with several generations of farming in its history.
While he says his staff enjoyed the idea of packing up the bees for Fairmont, most of his insects are trucked to different locations in the region to pollinate 11 food crops.
Growers pay beekeepers to pollinate their crops.
Gibeau memorizes the foods chronologically according to their four-week blooming positions during the growing season: Apples, blueberries, currants, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, blackberries, kiwis (grown in Aldergrove), pumpkins, zucchini and squash.
In the case of blueberries, it’s a $50-million industry to which Gibeau contributes 4,440 colonies, about a quarter of which he owns. The rest he rents from Alberta beekeepers.
The Honeybee Centre, located at the corner of 176 Street and Fraser Highway, is dedicated to bringing the benefits of the honeybee to people everywhere through their beekeeping services, a country and online store, and a visitor and learning centre. Store hours are Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.honeybeecentre.com