Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival
(Bruce’s Mill Conservation Area)
by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams
“On a Clear Day…”
The weather this winter has caused Judi and I a lot of problems! On a number of occasions we have planned a visit to a festival only to have to cancel those plans due to bad weather. So, when a clear day comes along, we grab it! A few Sundays ago such a day came along, and we grabbed it. A couple of weeks before a friend had told me about a maple syrup festival he and his family had visited last year. He said that they had a lot of fun and we should consider going to it with them this year. I checked with Judi and then agreed that we would go.
So, we were off to Bruce’s Mill Conservation Area to the Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival. Bruce’s Mill is located just west of Stouffville, just north of Toronto.
Our friends had arrived a few minutes before we did. They were already in the “Pancake House”.
Their kids were hungry and restless, so they had gone ahead with their pancakes before we arrived. The pancake breakfast was being run by the Stouffville Rotary Club and offered a lot of different food to choose from.
While we were eating we were entertained by Doug Barr. Doug is a great children’s musical performer.
He had all the kids in the Pancake House up on their feet, dancing, singing and clapping! Everyone was getting into the spirit of the festival. After breakfast was over, it was time to move outdoors to enjoy the other festival events taking place…
Our Wagon Ride…
We walk out of the dark Pancake House into the bright noon sunshine. Across from the Pancake House entrance, a large open pit fire had been built. Smoke was billowing upward into coolness of the day.
To our left was what we had come for, the “maple sugar bush” and eventually the maple syrup it produced! Our first adventure was a wagon ride through the bush. A large wagon, pulled by two “heavy horses”, was waiting for festival visitors to climb aboard. Our group plus others entered the wagon through the back entrance and we all took our seats. Once everyone was settled, the wagon driver reminded us not to stand while the wagon was moving. The jolt of the horses could cause someone to fall and result in an injury.
Thus warned we were off to see the Sugarbush! Even though the tree were bare of leaves, it was hard to see very far into the woods. Once we reached the end the trail and the turn about, the drive asked if anyone wanted to get off to take part in the survivor demonstration that was taking place in the forest beyond. Sugarbush volunteers were showing the more adventurous festival visitors survival techniques.
With no takers this time, the driver urged the horses forward. Along the way back I noticed that a number of the trees had been tapped and that blue plastic lines were running from tree to tree. All too quickly the wagon ride was over and we were obliged to exit the wagon. The next group of adventurers was already lined up and eager to be on their way!
As I walked to the exit, I turned back and watched in awe as the magnificent horses waited patiently for the drivers signal to move. Thus inspired, I followed our group. We were about to learn more about the Sugarbush and its secrets…
The Sugar Bush…
We passed underneath the sign that announced we were on the Bruce’s Mill Maple Syrup Trail.
Our trek for knowledge had begun! Strategically placed signs and displays were stationed along the trail, telling us the story of maple syrup. The first sign we came to told us that it took 40 buckets of sap to make 1 bucket of syrup!
The next told us about sugar bush management and the importance of having a healthy forest. As I walked along the trail I felt the history of the sugar bush and what it had meant to so many generations.
Signs and displays reminded us of how pioneers and natives alike used the bush and its trees to produce maple syrup. At the farthest point in the trial a pioneer shed and boiling pots had been set up for display.
A festival volunteer was handing out little cups of syrup to sample. A fire was burning under the three large pots. The whole scene was surreal, a snapshot in time! Across from the shed a collection bucket had been set up under a tree tap.
This was in conflict with blue plastic tubes that ran from tree to tree collecting sap the modern way! A sample of the Hogshead barrel was also on display. These Hogsheads were filled with sap from the collection bucket and the transported through the sugar bush on a horse drawn sleigh.
A little further along the trail turned again, this time with a large field to our left. More signs dotted the trail. I was reading a sign that told us which trees to choose for tapping when I caught sight of a large white projectile speeding my way…
“And Now For the Rest of the Story…”
Fortunately I saw the snowball coming in time and moved. It only missed me by a few inches! Unfortunately, my friend Ross had discovered that the snow in the field was perfect packing snow, GREAT for making snowballs! Being the mature individual that I am, I “turned the other cheek” and continued with my exploration of the sugar bush.
My back turned, I felt a thump on the back of my jacket. Then there was another thump! This time on the back of my leg (poor shot!) How could I let the children and women think of me as a coward? I had no recourse! I loaded up with snowballs. The fight was on! Snowballs were flying everywhere!
Even the children stopped making “snow angels” and joined in on the “fun”! My hat was knocked off; I had snow down my shirt and my gloves were soaking from the wet snow!
Finally, exhausted (Ross and I) we called a truce. My friend Ross thinks he won. He got more shots in, but he started first! So, I think I was probably the winner or at least it was a tie! Whoever won, it was a lot of fun! It was great to be a kid again!
We finished traveling the rest of the trail and headed into the “Sugar Shack”. This is where they produce the Maple Syrup. The sap runs from the trees through the plastic line into the Sugar Shack.
Here the sap is processed through the boilers to ultimately become pure Maple Syrup. From the production area we move on to the Retail Store.
Here lots of Maple Syrup products were on sale, tins of Maple Syrup, Maple Butter, Maple Candies and more!
It was too much for me, I had to leave. I exited from the sweet smelling building out into the fresh sunlight!
It was time to leave the Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival. We were going back to our friend’s for homemade Pizza. The kids (ages 3-5) were making it!