Taking part in a Canadian Maple Syrup Festival is a great way for tourists and locals alike to get out and celebrate spring, Mother Nature, and her special treats.
This annual event combines two of my favourite things in the whole world: the great outdoors and great food. For history lovers, it’s also a chance to sample a centuries-old tradition in person.
Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Hurons called the early spring “sweet water season” because it was the time of year they harvested maple sap from the trees and made it into maple syrup. You’ll also hear it called “sugaring-off festival” or the “tapping festival” or in French “temps des sucres”, which means "sugar time". Something like 95% of maple syrup is produced in the province of Quebec so the festival is a very big French-Canadian tradition too.
Recently, I attended a sugar bush tour in Bronte Creek, an Ontario provincial park. (See my report on the next page.)
The main events you’ll find at a maple syrup festival are guided tours of the sugar bush and pancake breakfast with maple syrup. Other events, depending where you go, include petting farms, live music and dancing, sleigh or hay rides, exhibitions of equipment, and children’s games. Of course, there’s also lots of shopping to do! Do you fancy some maple syrup, maple sugar, maple candies, maple butter spread, maple cream chocolates, maple taffy, maple tea, or maple coffee?
Some of the festivals have a special “theme”, for example, the Aboriginal theme at Crawford Lake or the Victorian theme at Bronte Creek. History fans will enjoy the chance to watch guides making the syrup the way it was done by generations past.
Dozens of Canadian maple syrup festival events are held all over Ontario at various locations by different maple syrup producers during the tapping season (starting in late February going to April, with a lot of public activities in March). Some take place on farms that produce maple syrup as a business, and others take place in parks like Bronte Creek.
Tips for attending
If you’re planning on attending a Canadian maple syrup festival here are a few things you should know.
One, timing. The Maple Syrup Festival takes place in March and April. Many places that offer tours of the sugar bush operate on all weekends in March, and every day during March break, but check with your particular site for their schedule, as times vary.
Two, cost. The festivals charge fees, some for the guided tours of the sugar bush and some for food and other activities. Bronte Creek for example charges a flat fee by car and then there’s also a small charge for the food and any other items you might want to sample or buy to bring home. Other places charge $3 per person for the tour, or $5, and then more for the breakfast, so check with the individual farm before you go. Be sure to bring some cash to buy treats too.
Three, preparation. The sugar bush tours take place outside on mucky, uneven ground, so people with mobility issues should check with the site beforehand to see which parts of the festival are accessible. March and April can be cold, so everyone, especially children, should wear layered warm clothing. The breakfast may be inside a “sugar shack” or outside under a pavillion depending on the site.
Four, crowds. Many places attract busloads
of visitors especially for breakfast. The lineups
can be very long… Just a heads-up in case you’re claustrophobic! Make sure
you’re not starving when you arrive, too.
NEXT PAGE: a Canadian Maple Syrup Festival at Bronte Creek Provincial Park