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Sweet reward for longtime Yukon beekeepers

Since the advent of mainstream cinema, Hollywood producers have become more and more skilled at using animals to prey on our darkest fears, whether it's birds, sharks or spiders. Bees haven't been spared, either.

Since the advent of mainstream cinema, Hollywood producers have become more and more skilled at using animals to prey on our darkest fears, whether it’s birds, sharks or spiders.

Bees haven’t been spared, either. A cursory glance at the Internet Movie Database reveals over a dozen titles ranging from Attack of the Killer Bees to The Swarm.

But Peter McPeake, a longtime beekeeper who lives near the Takhini River Bridge, can tell you the film industry has it all wrong.

Honeybees are docile and very rarely bad-tempered, unlike Africanized bees, which guard their hives aggressively.

“They’re pretty harmless and they’re not interested in stinging people,” he said.

“If you went into a hive causing damage, yeah, they’d attack you. They’re just like any other insect, they’re out there doing their own business.”

When he removes the frames of his beehives with his bare hands, none of them sting him, although he admits to being stung “hundreds of times” in his life.

In fact, it’s even likely that they recognize him. A study published in Scientific American in 2013 described how honeybees can learn human faces.

There is a long history of beekeeping in the Yukon, McPeake said, and it sounds like more enthusiasts are about to get involved in the hobby.

The Downtown Urban Gardeners Society is pushing for the construction of an apiary in Whitehorse this summer, one that would have close to 40,000 bees.

And Mount Lorne is hosting a beekeeping workshop by a master beekeeper from Terrace, B.C. in a few weeks.

McPeake got into beekeeping in 1995 after taking a course in Fairview, Alta., but it was two years later that he had his first hives in Whitehorse.

“I had a thing about taking bee pollen as a natural supplement for consumption, and that’s what piqued my interest in the hobby,” he said.

“They’re just so fascinating. I also thought I could have a honey-producing business after taking that course.”

But when he returned to the Yukon, he realized the lack of foraging areas for honeybees.

You need a much larger area if you’re going to produce large amounts of honey, he added.

So he began moving his bees around year after year, taking them to different spots in Whitehorse and even as far as Fox Lake, where there is an abundance of fireweed as a result of the Fox Lake Burn in 1998.

Honey production is also weather dependant, he said. May and June were great months last year but there was too much rain in July and August.

Overwintering the bees in the Yukon is a challenge. But many of them survive the harsh winter months by clustering together to keep warm, entering an almost catatonic state.

McPeake checked his hives last week and said they were looking “OK.”

“Towards the end of April, early May, that’s when you know whether they’ll survive or not,” he said.

Don Mark is another longtime beekeeper in the territory who started in the early 1980s while living in the bush near Pelly Crossing.

One summer, when he was living in Carmacks, a bear ripped all of his hives apart.

“There were no survivors,” Mark said, “so I took a break from it.”

He started up a few years ago but it’s been up and down since then.

Last summer he had close to 200 pounds of honey. This year, instead of giving it all away, he plans on selling it.

Just like McPeake, he’s excited about the idea of having an apiary in downtown Whitehorse.

“You have urban beekeeping all over the place now, even in Los Angeles and Vancouver,” he said.

In February Winnipeg’s city council approved a zoning bylaw amendment to allow beehives on the rooftops of downtown buildings.

Mark said he hopes people realize that honeybees are docile, gentle creatures with no intentions of harming humans.

“You have to get rid of the fear,” he said.

“We cope with bears, and we cope with each other, which is even harder.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at