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Maple Syrup Festivals – A Canadian Spring-time Tradition

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Of all the harbingers of spring, my favorite has to be the start of maple syrup season. Maple syrup is symbolic of Canada and trips to the sugar bush are a spring-time tradition for many Canadian families. I have fond childhood memories of such excursions so I enjoy going with my kids now, even if it's not quite the rustic experience that I remember. Maple syrup festivals tasty and educational for all ages. Here's what you need to know before you go.

Maple Syrup Festivals - A Canadian Spring-time Tradition

Making maple taffies on blocks of iced

Canada's love of maple syrup

Canada is renowned for producing approximately 80 percent of the world's supply of maple syrup. The vast majority of that originates in Québec, but it is also produced in lesser quantities in parts of Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Primarily, it is Sugar Maples that are tapped because the sweetness of the sap from this species of tree produces the tasty maple syrup that everyone loves. The sap generally starts running around the beginning of March when cold overnight temperatures give rise to sunny days and above-freezing temperatures and continues until the trees are in bud and spring is well under way.

Maple Syrup Festivals in Canada - tapping the tree

Learning how to bore a hole in a maple tree

Maple syrup festivals

Maple Syrup Festivals are a popular way for Canadians to celebrate the onset of the sugaring season and can be found across the Greater Toronto Area. One such festival is the annual Bronte Creek Provincial Park Maple Syrup Festival, which opens the first weekend in March and continues on weekends throughout the month and on weekdays during spring break. Bronte Creek is less than an hour's drive from downtown Toronto and practically in my own backyard so my 9-year-old daughter, Emma, and I paid a visit on the opening day of this year's festival.

Maple Syrup Festival at Bronte Creek Provincial Park

Tapped and ready for the sap to fill the bucket

Bronte Creek Provincial Park Maple Syrup Festival

We arrived at the Information Centre and were greeted by friendly tour guides dressed in costumes representative of the late Victorian time period circa the 1890s. The land that now comprises Bronte Creek had been settled and used for agricultural purposes in the mid-1800s and the homesteads have been maintained as office buildings and educational facilities. The Maple Syrup Festival centers around one of these homesteads, the Breckon family's Spruce Lane Farm, so the festival pays homage to that time period. The guides provide visitors with a history of maple syrup production in the area and demonstrate some of the techniques for tapping trees and making maple syrup and candy.

Canadian Maple Syrup Festival

The sap had been running but was frozen solid in the bucket when we toured

How maple syrup is collected

Emma and I had the benefit of a private tour because there were no other visitors arriving at the same time as us. Our knowledgeable guide, Allie, strolled with us through Maple Lane explaining why Sugar Maples are the best trees for tapping and how the sap is produced. We paused at the various stations while she demonstrated how to measure a tree to determine if it is big enough to tap, how to drill a tree, and how to insert the spout and hang a bucket to collect the sap. We learned that it takes 40 liters of sap to produce 1 liter of maple syrup—hard to believe but I would say that it's definitely worth the effort.

Maple Syrup Festival near Toronto

Three kettle method employed by pioneers 200 years ago

Methods for collecting maple syrup

Allie also demonstrated the methods of producing syrup that have been used over the years. Three hundred years ago, natives collected sap in hollowed out logs adding hot rocks directly from a fire in order to evaporate water. This time-consuming method took about 12 hours from start to finish. One hundred years later, pioneers improved upon this method by heating the sap in iron kettles over the fire and cut the time in half. During the Victorian period, in the late 1800s, the flat pan method was introduced and the production time was once again reduced.

Maple Syrup Festival near Toronto

Enjoying the super-sweet taffy

Maple taffy

There were several other activities available to visitors, including tours of the Victorian farm house, but, for my daughter at least, it was all about the maple syrup products. There can't be much in the world that tastes better than fresh maple taffy and Emma could hardly wait to try some. I recall trips to the sugar bush when I was a kid when someone would drizzle the piping hot maple syrup from the kettle on to snow to make maple taffy for us. This is one area where it's a relief to see that times have changed—it's much more sanitary now as the taffy is made on clean blocks of ice.

Maple Syrup Festival near Toronto

Maple syrup to-go

Maple souvenirs

Apart from the taffy, visitors may also shop for maple syrup products and souvenirs at the Maple Gift Shoppe where the merchandise includes bottles of maple syrup, maple sugar candy, and maple lollipops. We weren't able to leave the store without purchasing all three and both of us will attest to their deliciousness. A short wagon ride from the Information Centre transports visitors to the Pancake House to enjoy a hearty meal of pancakes with fresh syrup and either sausage or bacon. It's the perfect way to either end or start the day.

Maple Syrup Festivals - Pancake and maple syrup breakfast

Finishing the afternoon at The Pancake House

Emma and I thoroughly enjoyed the two hours that we spent at the festival despite the chillier than normal weather. Temperatures that were well below freezing meant that sap was frozen in the buckets and we didn't actually see any dripping from spouts but we still enjoyed learning about the process. It was our first visit to this particular maple syrup festival and I thought that it was one of the best I have ever seen. A family-friendly maple syrup festival is the wonderful way to learn more about this traditional Canadian enterprise, enjoy some delicious maple syrup products, and welcome the approach of spring.

Have you ever made maple taffy or attended one of Canada's maple syrup festivals? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

About Lisa Goodmurphy, The Spunky Travel Mama

Lisa Goodmurphy is a lawyer turned family travel writer and a mom of two daughters. She grew up in small town Northern Ontario and now resides near Toronto, Canada. Badly bitten by the travel bug years ago, she considers herself fortunate that her family is equally enthusiastic about her mission to explore the world—one trip at a time. Lisa shares her travel adventures on the blog that she founded in 2011 and now contributes to many online media publications as well. You can read about her family’s travels on her blog, Gone with the Family, on Google+ or on Twitter as @GoneWithFamily.

Comments

  1. Yum! My guys would love this. Great tradition and really interesting too. I can only imagine how good it tastes ‘right out of the tree’ 🙂

  2. My love of all things maple syrup began as a child growing up in Ontario, with my first visit to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, which still running today. Can’t get enough of the sweet stuff – and only Amber Maple Syrup will do in our house!

  3. Anne Smitten says:

    So yummy! My unconditional love for maple syrup also comes from the childhood and it seems like my kids are following this tradition. I am sure my romantic soul would have loved the Victorian farm house tour. The festival sounds like a perfect activity for families with children. Such a pity that it is over. If there are any Moms here looking for a nice programme with their kids, I just found this Vancouver International Children´s Festival and I will probably spend the birthday of my daughter there. Looks like a lot of fun!

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