‘Bee Emergency’: How Beekeepers Got 5 Million Bees Off a Road in Canada

The call of duty for Terri Faloney, a beekeeper in Hamilton, Ontario, came on Wednesday at around 8 a.m. Her mother had just seen a report on television that five million angry bees had escaped from wooden boxes that had toppled off a trailer and were swarming a two-lane road in nearby Burlington.

“There’s a bee emergency,” her mother told her. “They need all the beekeepers they can get.”

Mike Barber, a beekeeper in Guelph, Ontario, got the call even earlier as he was lying in his son’s bed, trying to help his 8-year-old get back to sleep. When he finally looked at his phone, he noticed that he had missed 10 calls from a local police officer, asking him for help.

Both beekeepers knew they were in for a serious mission, and so did dozens of others who quickly learned through social media posts and news reports about the swarm of millions of bees churning above the road, about an hour southwest of Toronto. The Halton Regional Police were warning pedestrians to avoid the area and urged residents and passing motorists to keep their windows closed.

Mr. Barber, who owns a business called Tri-City Bee Rescue that relocates swarms from homes and other locations where they aren’t wanted, grabbed his beekeeper’s suit and drove to the scene. So did Ms. Faloney, who brought bee smokers, which release smoke to subdue panicked bees into a state of lethargy.

When Mr. Barber arrived, he found it was undoubtedly a dangerous situation, but a bit of a funny one as well for the dozen or so beekeepers who had come to rescue millions of honeybees.

“It was quite hilarious because none of the police or first responders would get out of their vehicles, so you had all of these beekeepers walking around in full suits, and everyone else staying a safe distance away,” Mr. Barber said in an interview on Wednesday.

Constable Ryan Anderson of the Halton Regional Police Service said he didn’t realize that there were so many beekeepers in the area. He said he was grateful that “they were all really helpful and really quick to get to the scene.”

“It’s really nice because it’s obviously not something the police deal with often,” he said. “We’ve had horses running down the street and the occasional bear, but nothing like this amount of bees. So we had to lean pretty heavily on the experts on this one.”

Tristan Jameson, the commercial beekeeper who was hauling the bees on a trailer attached to a pickup truck, told the Canadian news outlet Global News that he had swerved to avoid something he had seen moving across the road and then “nearly swerved into the ditch, tried to correct, and dumped all the hives.”

After the accident, the bees began an “orientation flight” to try to figure out where their hives were, Mr. Jameson said.

“Right now, there is a ton of bees just all over the place,” he told Global News. “We’re waiting for them to calm down, relax and come back to the hive and hopefully get as many bees out of here as safely as possible.”

Constable Anderson said that the first beekeeper on the scene was stung “about 60-plus times trying to collect the bees.” The man was treated at the scene, and did not appear to need further medical attention, he said.

Mr. Barber said that so many bees had escaped from their boxes that “the sky was dark with bees.”

“It was something else,” he said.

Other beekeepers were calling him to see if they could help, but he couldn’t hear his phone ringing above the din, he said.

“When you’re in that cloud of bees,” he said, “it’s actually quite loud — a million little helicopters flying around you.”

To collect the bees, Mr. Barber said he and other beekeepers put the smashed boxes back together, giving the bees a visual clue to return to their hives.

“What was a cloud of maybe five million bees very quickly became a cloud of maybe 5,000,” he said, adding: “It got calmer. The bees did their thing.”

Ms. Faloney, who owns a beekeeping business called Hammer Hives, said she collected “rogue queens” that were on the ground and bees that were settling on parked cars. Once most of the bees had returned to their hives, Mr. Jameson was able to haul them away on his trailer, the police said.

Reflecting on the experience as she finally ate breakfast late Wednesday morning, Ms. Faloney said it was beautiful to have seen so many beekeepers working together to save the bees.

“It was just nice to see everybody get there quickly,” she said. “Some drove 10 minutes and some drove an hour. We’re very, very lucky to be in this community.”

Said Mr. Barber: “We all swarmed to help — bee pun intended.”