Maple super festival welcomes the spring season

Mar 22, 2023 | Culture, Life

Canadiana is alive and well, as maple season welcomes in the spring.

Bruce’s Mill Conservation Area in Stouffville, Ont., is holding its annual Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival, and is seeing crowds every day.

Mary Gawen, the site supervisor of community learning with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), said the festival has seen up to 1,000 visitors per day.

The Sugarbush Festival has been running for more than 60 years at Bruce’s Mill Conservation Area and is buzzing with activities, maple syrup tastings, wagon rides and games for children to play.

In recent years, the event has introduced new interpretive stations. Gawen said this year, local vendors have set up as a welcomed addition to the event.

“We’ve got a little mini market,” Gawen said. “You’ve got sweet treats, you’ve got cured sausages, and we’ve got green products as well.”

Mary Gawen, smiling. She is wearing a black TCRA jacket, with a white nametag pinned to the left side of the jacket.

Mary Gawen, the site supervisor of community learning with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). Photo credit: Rheegan Goodale

The festival also works to preserve and celebrate the history of maple syrup production in Canada. Several educational stops are present along the Maple Syrup Trail, explaining the discovery of maple sap, and the evolution of maple syrup.

Gawen said the festival’s Indigenous station has undergone a revamp this year.

She said they were the first to discover sweetwater or sap, so this station delves into how they started the process of sap collection and transformation.

“They did take their cues from nature,” Gawen said. “They discovered that deer and different animals were licking the sap, so they started to go look and see what the animals were doing.”

Indigenous communities were also the first to boil sap down to create the sugar present in modern-day maple syrup.

As early European settlers came to Canada, Gawen said Indigenous communities were the ones to share the process and pass on their knowledge surrounding maple syrup manufacturing.

Maple syrup production has come a long way since Indigenous communities discovered sweetwater. Gawen said production times have gotten 14 times faster since then.

“It would have taken early Indigenous people seven days to do that full process,” Gawen said. “Early Europeans, probably about two days, and then we’ve got it down to half a day.”

About 50 trees are tapped at Bruce’s Mill Conservation Center.

Gawen said they still utilize the Early European method, where trees are tapped with a spile, and sap is collected in metal buckets.

There is also a new, modern method used, which collects sap using tubes and pipes. This process involves significantly less collection labour.

Tapping started earlier than usual this year. Gawen said sap typically starts to flow in the spring, around March, but warmer temperatures caused the collection process to start in February.

“It might be a shorter time in March,” Gawen said. “Temperatures increased, and the sap has done its job.”

The Sugarbush Maple Festival will continue to run on weekends until April 1, 2023.