Leeds and Lanark Counties are renowned for their high quality maple syrup. Much of the syrup is made the old fashioned way, in small sugar shacks sitting in the middle of a maple tree forest. These days, stainless steel evaporators are used to produce the syrup, although most are still heated with wood. It takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. The season generally starts in mid-March. Ideal conditions are when daytime temperatures go a few degrees above freezing and nighttime temperatures are a few degrees below freezing. It is this temperature contrast that really gets the sap flowing in the trees.
Modern operations use plastic tubing to bring the sap to the evaporator, or central catchment points where the sap can be collected. A few small farm operations still use buckets and collect the sap in a large container, mounted on a wagon pulled by a tractor or a team of horses. Watching maple syrup being made is almost as fun as eating it. Kids (grown-up kids as well), enjoy syrup poured over fresh snow. The maple syrup tour is a great family outing, fun for young and old alike.
Our plan for today is to have a delicious pancake breakfast, with lots of fresh maple syrup, and then, bellies full, putter around the area, stopping at various sugar shacks as the mood strikes us.
There are two choices for a starting spot. If you are coming up on a Saturday in the last two weeks of March or the first two weeks of April, head over to Frankville (on County Rd. 29). The St. Thomas Anglican Church in Frankville hosts a pancake breakfast featuring syrup from the Gibbons Family Farm, Maple Sugar House and Museum. After your feast, head over to Gibbons Family Farm and see how the syrup is made. Take the kids on a horse-drawn sleigh/wagon ride. For more information see the Gibbons Family Farm webpage.
Another alternative on any weekend from mid-March to mid-April is to head up to Crosby (on Hwy. 15) in the same time period. On the east side of the road, just south of Crosby you will find the Crosby Community Hall which hosts Leggett's Pancake House during the sugar season (see coming events).
If you're heading out of Kingston, an interesting spot close to home is the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area which has a working maple syrup operation. Another great one for the kids is the Millpond conservation area maple syrup operation which has various demonstrations of maple syrup making. It can be found north of Portland.
Be sure to take in the Delta Maple Syrup Festival, which is usually held on the third weekend of April (check the coming events page). You'll enjoy a pancake brunch at the Delta community hall, the kids will enjoy the parade, and everyone will enjoy browsing for various maple products at the sidewalk sale.
Wherever you first head, plan to spend the rest of the day touring the region. The maple leaf symbols on the map show the location of some of the sugar shacks in the area, many are open to the public on a drop-in basis. Use your first visit to explore the area, and then make it an annual pilgrimage. Nothing tastes better than maple syrup unless it is maple syrup you've seen in the making. It also makes a great gift for friends and relatives who are not fortunate enough to live in our area.
For more information about maple syrup, including how to make your own, have a look at the Maple Syrup Page.
© 1999-2010 Ken W. Watson