Brandon University builds buzz for bees with cameras showing ‘awe-inspiring’ world of hives

A set of cameras installed on the roof of a Brandon University building are looking to build buzz about bees and help pollinator knowledge take flight in southwestern Manitoba.

The university has installed two rooftop cameras on campus to provide a “hive stream” of its two new European honeybee hives.

Deanna Smid, a BU professor, and Grant Hamilton, the university’s director of marketing and communications, help co-ordinate and maintain the two new hives.

“I knew that seeing inside of a beehive was going to be interesting,” said Smid, a professor of English and cultural studies whose interest in bees was sparked by studying them as literary symbols.

“I didn’t realize it was going to be so magical and awe-inspiring, just seeing so many bees all working away, looking out at you, flying around. It is incredible.”

Hamilton’s curiosity was piqued by issues about beekeeping, including colony collapse disorder and the rise in community engagement to support bees.

A woman in a bee suit stands in front of two bee hives
Brandon University professor Deanna Smid stands with new beehives on top of Harvest Hall. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The 2022 season has been been a devastating year for beekeepers across Canada. Bee losses are in the 40 per cent range for parts of the country, but Manitoba’s figure sits at about 57 per cent.

Bee levels are struggling for several reasons, including the varroa mite, an invasive parasite.

Other municipalities have urban beekeeping opportunities, said Hamilton, and bringing hives to BU felt like a natural fit to raise awareness of these issues, while supporting the pollinators.

The two beehives were installed in early June as part of a five-year pilot project on the roof of the university’s Harvest Hall — a location chosen because it is visible from the second floor of the BU Library.

Bees crawl inside a hive.
Bees work in their hive. Brandon University’s live stream provides a 24/7 look at what’s happening with the hives. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“We wanted to invite people to come on campus to see the bees, to see what they’re doing,” Smid said.

The hives were provided by local beekeeper Mike Clark, and the honeybees were shared by an anonymous local beekeeper.

A smiling man in a white shoulder has a tiny bee on his shoulder as countless bees swarm around him.
BU communications Grant Hamilton is surrounded by a swarm of bees. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Hamilton said the idea is to create a self-sustaining urban beekeeping operation, made up of community members who can keep the hives going and gain a better understanding of bees and beekeeping.

“It’s been really engaging to learn the ins and outs and all of the specialized knowledge that beekeepers bring to the hives,” Hamilton said.

“There’s much more to it than that surface-level understanding. And it has given me a deep respect for what beekeepers go through, especially the challenges that they’re going through.”

24/7 live stream

Cameras placed in front of the hives in early August now offer a round-the-clock live stream video of the hive entrances, giving people around the world a chance to watch the bees.

The goal of the project is to help build awareness about the different ways the community can support honeybees and natural pollinators in southwestern Manitoba, Smid said.

The support and interest from the public in being involved in the project has been overwhelming, said Hamilton.

“I’m optimistic that it’s going to be a huge success, because the first year has already been very successful,” he said.

People are “excited to see Brandon University doing something that is literally moving outside of the bounds of campus,” said Smid, and they’re happy to see someone raising awareness about how to help the struggling bee population.

“So the bees are like little ambassadors that are flying through the city,” she said.

A close up of bees crawling along a video camera.
Bees land on a new live-streaming camera. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

There are simple steps people can take to help honeybees and local pollinators, she said, and the hives are helping get the word out.

Actions as simple as planting flowers, leaving lawns unmowed and leaving fall leaves in place can help the bees thrive.

Three people stand beside bee hives surrounded by swarming bees.
Hamilton, beekeeper Mike Clark and Smid check on the new beehives. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Hamilton said people have been hopeful there will be a shift in the city toward greater awareness of its troubled insect population, and what can be done to help.

“Hopefully it sets the stage for city council to support urban beekeeping or some type of beekeeping framework for all of the city of Brandon, so that people can do more than plant gardens,” he said.

“They could maybe explore being a beekeeper themselves.”