A History of the UTBA

The UTBA was the brainchild of Tom Nolan. Tom and his wife Sonia Rodriguez started beekeeping in 2012 at an organic farm outside Toronto. Though Tom took courses from the Tech Transfer team of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, he also saw the value of a network of beekeepers with whom he could continue to learn and share his experiences. Tom joined the Toronto and District Beekeepers’ Association (TDBA) to get to know and network with other beekeepers. Helpful as those meetings were, they were held in Vaughan, north of Toronto, a long way to travel for beekeepers who lived downtown.

Tom met students at the University of Toronto who had started U of T Bees, with rooftop hives on university buildings, as well as other city dwellers setting up hives in the downtown area. All felt the need for a more city-centred network.

So early in 2013 Tom distributed flyers calling for the inaugural meeting of the Urban Toronto Beekeepers’ Association and rented a meeting room at Trinity St. Paul’s church in downtown Toronto. More than 40 enthusiastic people came to that meeting, some of them experienced beekeepers, and some who were looking to begin. Brian Hamlin gave the inaugural beekeeping talk and provided a variety of honeys for tasting. The UTBA was off and running.

From then on, UTBA meetings were held every month. Gradually, others joined Tom in managing the meetings and bringing in a wide range of speakers: Ontario beekeepers to talk about their apiaries; researchers who were studying honeybee genetics and bee behaviour; experts on bee pests and diseases; the impact of pesticides on pollinators; Ontario beekeeping regulations and many other topics.

Within a year UTBA branched out beyond the monthly meetings:

  • We set up a Facebook page which quickly grew to over 1000 Facebook “friends” from Toronto and beyond, eager to talk about urban beekeeping and to seek and offer advice
  • In 2014, UTBA members played a strong role in stakeholder meetings on Ontario’s proposed neonicotinoid regulations, submitting briefs to the government in support of strong regulations, and making presentations to other beekeeping organizations on the issue
  • In 2015, UTBA organized a two-day workshop with author Ross Conrad on Natural Beekeeping, attended by more than 30 Toronto beekeepers
  • In 2016, Tom Nolan was able to step back from his pivotal role in organizing meetings as more UTBA members stepped up. (Tom remains an active and valuable member of the organization.)
  • In 2017, a more formal membership process was begun, with members paying annual fees and some UTBA activities open only to members. That year, UTBA organized a swarm trap construction workshop, a hands-on Varroa monitoring event, and a workshop with Brian Scott on making splits.
  • In 2018, we organized two day-long Honey Tasting courses at the Humber Arboretum with super taster Dan Douma. We also started adding BEE Educated sessions to our monthly meetings to meet the needs of new beekeepers looking for more basic guidance. We also started to do research on local beekeeping regulations in other jurisdictions as alternatives to the 30-metre rule in the Ontario Bees Act, which makes it almost impossible to legally keep bees in the city. And one of our members was elected to the Board of Directors of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, to help represent small-scale and urban beekeepers.
  • In 2019, we collaborated with the Toronto District Beekeepers’ Association and organized the annual OBA Summer Meeting with pre-eminent honeybee researcher Tom Seeley as our keynote speaker. More than 80 Ontario beekeepers attended the daylong event. In addition to presentations by honeybee researchers, and practical demonstrations by local beekeepers, the meeting included tours of two nearby apiaries managed by UTBA members Fran Freeman and John Coffman, as well as a queen auction.
  • In 2020, like many other organizations we have had to adapt to Covid-19 restrictions and have started offering virtual meetings using Zoom. We have planned a new Mentorship Program, which won’t be rolled out in its initial form (hands-on mentoring) but which we hope will be able to take place on-line. We are engaging a much wider range of UTBA members in organizing UTBA meetings and events, have expanded our Coordinating Committee and are updating and reworking our website and other forms of outreach to make them more useful for our members.