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The view from the top of Vancouver's convention centre is of breathtaking mountains and bustling traffic, but the pain of repeated bee stings seriously reduces the enjoyment.

Allen Garr is unfazed, despite the discomfort of his visitor. He's been tending to bees for 16 years. The difference is that now, he's tending to four hives on the roof of the city's newest marquee building.

The European honeybees are part of the building's "living" roof design. The hives were installed in April, 2009, after Mr. Garr suggested the idea.

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"People see this as a nice way of rounding out the environment," he said.

Mr. Garr was up on the roof recently to check on the bees after their first winter season and although things could be better, he said they are starting to thrive with spring flowers and trees beginning to bloom in the downtown area.

The roof is covered with more than 400,000 indigenous plants and grasses, but there are few blooming plants for the bees to feed on. Bees play a key role in the plant ecosystem: about one third of our diet comes from plants pollinated by insects, with bees accounting for 80 per cent of those crops.

Each of the four hives is capable of holding 60,000 bees and producing up to 57 kilograms of honey per year, but the first harvest last September yielded 23 kilograms.

Aside from the rooftop hives, Mr. Garr also maintains colonies at the University of B.C., VanDusen Botanical Garden and Science World.

The beekeeping community in the city, and across the globe, has steadily grown over the last few years due in part to environmental awareness, he said. He noted there are hives at city hall in Chicago, on apartment balconies in Paris and soon, Vancouver's city hall will have its own colony of hives.

"Ten years ago it was a quirky oddity, but it's become mainstream news because people realize what we are doing to the environment and bees are just one prism through which we can look at the environment," said Mr. Garr, who is also a journalist.

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The increase in beekeeping activity in urban areas can also be attributed to more people wanting to create their own food and maybe a little income by selling the honey. But Mr. Garr said the return on the investment is not that great.

"You have to be up around 300 or 400 hives before you start making money."

Mr. Garr's career as an apiarist began when an old friend from university persuaded him to get into beekeeping.

"He asked me if I wanted to keep bees and I said 'No.' So he captured a swarm of bees from my neighbourhood and put them on my back deck and said, 'You're a beekeeper.'"

Since then, Mr. Garr has honed his craft by reading books, consulting with other apiarists and through trial and error.

"I learned a little bit by getting stung."

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The Canadian Press

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