Spring in Canada means warmer weather is finally on the way, bringing with it the opportunity for outdoor activities that don’t always require a parka or snow boots!
For many Canadians, springtime isn’t just about blooming flowers and budding trees, it’s synonymous with one thing: maple syrup.The process of collecting maple sap and boiling it to create the sticky, sweet syrup was practiced by Indigenous peoples for centuries before the arrival of European settlers. By the 1850s, maple sap harvesting had transformed from small-scale agriculture to a thriving industry in North America, and today maple syrup is considered as quintessentially Canadian as poutine or hockey.
The spring maple syrup harvest is big business in the eastern half of Canada – from Nova Scotia to Manitoba – and if you live in any of these provinces a trip to your local maple syrup farm or sugar shack is a wonderful (and delicious) way for people of all ages to get outside after the long winter.
In the western provinces, there are many festivals that celebrate maple syrup and its history – and even some intrepid farmers attempting to defy both a landscape and climate that make syrup production difficult.
Here is a list of some of the best maple syrup farms, sugar shacks, and festivals across the country.
Ross Farm Museum in New Ross, Nova Scotia (about an hour west of Halifax) is a living heritage farm – a family friendly window into the agricultural history of the region. See how people lived, worked, and farmed the land in the 1800s, from the fields that are still farmed with live oxen, to the working blacksmith, mill, and cooperage (barrel making workshop). Every March, the farm museum holds a maple syrup weekend called "The Wonders of Maple Syrup" where visitors can learn about the process of tapping trees to collect sap and making syrup. Pancakes included!
Open year round, Sugar Moon Farm near Truro, Nova Scotia features a shop, restaurant, and over 30 kilometres of hiking trails for visitors to get the complete maple syrup experience – weather permitting. During the mid-February to mid-April “Sugar Season” visitors can rent snowshoes to get a firsthand look at how maple syrup is produced, then warm up back at the farm’s restaurant and enjoy a wide variety of maple-themed cuisine.
Sucrereie Chiasson is a family farm in northern New Brunswick town that offers maple syrup tours and tastings to visitors. The farm, which has grown to over 4,500 maple trees since its founding in 1910, has several event venues that offer a delicious brunch menu to guests during sugar season. In addition to maple syrup and taffy, visitors can also enjoy a regional tradition called a “licherie” or sugar tasting, which entails dipping a stick into boiling maple syrup and licking the stick once the syrup has cooled.
Little Mactaquac Maples is a family-owned maple syrup producer located just outside Fredericton, New Brunswick. The farm offers $5 walking tours on weekends during sugar season that include all-you-can-eat maple candy. A small on-site shop has a variety of maple products for sale, including maple syrup, taffy, pepper jelly, BBQ sauce, sriracha, and more.
Prince Edward Island
This small family run operation 30 minutes outside Charlottetown, PEI opened in 2013 with just 50 maple trees and now taps over 700 trees annually. Maple syrup produced at Hazel Grove can be purchased at the Charlottetown Farmers Market every Saturday or picked up on-site if you contact them in advance. Small group tours for the 2022 sugar season will be announced soon.
McGill University’s Morgan Arboretum isn’t the first place one would associate with maple syrup, but the 245 hectare forest reserve is actually home to one of the last sugar maple groves on the Island of Montreal. Every spring, visitors to the arboretum can enjoy wagon rides and learn about traditional maple syrup production methods, as well as enjoy a variety of food and drinks, including German sausages, hot dogs, and maple taffy in the snow.
Those interested in learning more about the history of maple syrup production in la belle province should pay a visit to Érablière le Chemin du Roy, located just outside of Quebec City. Featuring an authentic 1920s sugar shack and syrup produced on site, the maple farm offers guided tours and also doubles as an event venue. Maple sugaring season (February to April) is the best time to visit Érablière le Chemin du Roy, with the farm offering visitors amenities like all-you-can-eat brunch, lunch, and dinner, maple taffy on snow, and traditional Quebecois folk music.
Hunters Maple Bush family-operated, fourth generation maple farm in Troy, Ontario – just 20 minutes from Hamilton. The farm produces maple syrup, maple confections, and a variety of maple infused baked goods that are vegan, gluten-free and peanut-free, and is accessible to visitors by way of private and group tours that can be booked through their website.
Opened by the Beers family in 2012, Maple Grove is a small maple farm in Severn Township, Ontario, just 12 kilometres from Orillia. The farm offers spring walking tours where visitors can see how sap is collected and learn more about the process of producing maple syrup. Best of all, the tour includes a complimentary bottle, you guessed it, maple syrup!
Manitoba & Saskatchewan
The traditional maple syrup that most people are familiar with comes from sugar maple trees – a tree that doesn’t grow in significant numbers in the Canadian prairies. But that doesn’t mean that provinces like Manitoba don't produce any maple syrup.
A visit to the St-Pierre-Jolys Museum south of Winnipeg will teach visitors about the storied history of French Canadians in Manitoba, as well as the important role that maple syrup played in the lives of Métis people of the region. The museum's Maple Syrup Tour and annual Sugaring Off Festival features a visit to the sugar shack and sweet treats aplenty.
Like neighbouring Saskatchewan, the prairie climate of Alberta does not favour the growing of sugar maple trees or commercial maple syrup production. However, there are several Alberta festivals that celebrate French-Canadian culture (and maple syrup) that take place annually.
This yearly festival in Calgary, Alberta showcases the province’s rich Francophone, Metis and First Nations’ history, which includes maple syrup – a symbol of traditional French-Canadian culture. The two-day festival typically happens in early March and features food and drink, family-friendly exhibits and activities like wagon rides, and, of course, maple taffy on snow.
For the past 35 years, Bonnyville-Cold Lake, Alberta has played host to La Cabane à Sucre du Nord, also known as the Northern Sugar Shack, an annual celebration of French-Canadian culture, food, and traditions. The event, which is modelled after the Quebec Winter Carnival typically attracts around 500 visitors from the surrounding community, and features music, sleigh rides, and maple syrup-themed activities.
Muskoseepi Park in Grande Prairie, Alberta hosts the city’s annual Maple Sugar Festival/Festival de la Cabane à Sucre, which like similar events in the province celebrates all things French-Canadian with ample amounts of maple syrup. Although this event and others like it have been cancelled in recent years due to the pandemic, Albertans look forward to having them back up and running soon.
Like its prairie neighbours, the climate of BC is not suitable for growing sugar maple trees and is not home to many dedicated maple farms. However, Maples' Sugar Shack at the Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver is about the closest many British Columbians will come to that traditional maple farm experience – complete with maple taffy on snow. They also offer Bigleaf Maple Syrup, a distinctive west coast maple syrup produced in small batches on Vancouver Island.
BC’s Okanagan Valley is better known for its wineries than maple syrup farms, but Summerland, British Columbia is home to local shop specializing in maple products inspired by the New Brunswick tradition: Maple Roch. Get a new appreciation for all things maple with an in-store tasting experience that lets visitors sample syrups, sauces, and other maple products, including maple granola, chips, and caramel. The company has even attempted to commercially produce a homegrown BC maple syrup, but even when locally blended nearly all syrup in the province is imported from Eastern Canada.
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