The history of the honey bee in Canada
Honey bees are thought to originate in Africa, and were actually brought to North America by European colonists in the early 1600s. Nowadays, although honey bees are not native to North America, they can be found here and in most regions of the world, except in high altitudes or polar regions. This is because they don’t weather the cold very well, and extremely low temperatures can cause undue stress on a hive.
In Canada, it’s said that pollinators, including honey bees, are responsible for one in every three bites of food we eat and approximately $2 billion annually for the agricultural industry. There are now over 8,500 beekeepers in the country with more than 700,000 hives. Most of those hives are commercial—producing honey as a business—and only some of them are kept as hobby projects. With so many hives, they often need flowers for their honey bees to graze, and many of them partner with farmers to do it.
The History of Hive Numbers
Over the past 90 years, the number of hives in Canada has more than doubled, and is now at an all-time high. It hasn’t, however, always been smooth sailing—and the industry has fluctuated both due to reasons of business as well as environment. With it, the number of hives in the country have also fluctuated.
Near the beginning of the Second World War, Canada began a strict period of sugar rationing, and this meant honey was in great demand as a substitute. As a result, in a very short time the number of hives in the country rose—due in large part to U.S. imports. When the war ended, however, those hives were no longer seen as necessary, and the industry suffered.
As the population grew, the number of commercial beekeepers grew with it, and by 1980 Canada was at nearly the same level of honey production as we are today.
But then disaster struck, and the most dangerous factor affecting honey bees was introduced into Canada: the varroa mite (Varroa destructor). In an attempt to protect Canada from the pest, the government closed the border to imports of U.S. bees. This created significant challenges for beekeepers, including overwintering struggles, and the mite still made its way to Canada.
With the discovery of pesticides, specifically miticides, and other control methods to manage the varroa population in commercial hives, honey bee numbers have stabilized and are now higher than they’ve ever been.