As the country’s best-loved export, maple syrup is a serious business in Canada. Maple syrup farms, also known as sugar bushes, have crafted this delicious sweet treat for centuries, and many farmers still use the traditional techniques today. Fortunately for visitors, the farmers aren’t too protective of their methods. You can visit sugar bushes across Canada to learn more about this delicate craft and to try some tasty maple syrup and pancakes for yourself.
Today, around 80% of the world’s supply of maple syrup comes from Canada, with Quebec alone producing two-thirds of the globe’s syrup. There are plenty of sugar bushes in Ontario which are easy to access if you’re travelling from the UK. All you need to do is book flights to Toronto and set off on a sugar-fuelled adventure! And we’d highly recommend that you do so during maple syrup season.
What is maple syrup season?
Maple syrup season takes place between February and April when farmers extract the sugary sap from the trees to produce maple syrup. The maple trees produce sugar during the summer before storing it as starch in their root tissues in the winter. Spring brings warmer temperatures, coaxing the sugar maple trees to turn their stored starch back into sugar. So once February or March rolls around with warmer weather, sugar-makers tap the trees by drilling a hole in the trunk and attaching a spout with a bucket below to catch the sap. Some farms have as many as 40,000 to 60,000 taps set up during maple syrup season.
According to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, the sap is made when ground water is mixed with the sugar within the tree. The sap is mostly clear water with 2% sugar, so it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup! Once the sap has been gathered, it’s taken to storage tanks at the farm’s sugarhouse. It is then put through a reverse osmosis machine to take some of the water out before the sap is boiled. The process sees the water evaporate, leaving the sap to thicken and the sugar to caramelise.
To find out more about the joys of visiting a maple farm, we caught up with Justin and Lauren, who document their adventures on their aptly named travel blog, Justin Plus Lauren. We asked the couple whether their visit to Mountsberg Sugar Bush in Campbellville, Ontario lived up to expectations:
“Yes, definitely! It’s fascinating to see the lengthy process that it takes to harvest maple syrup, especially the sheer amount of sap required to produce it. I loved walking around the serene forest, too.
“One of the best parts, of course, is tasting the maple syrup itself. A Canadian tradition involves pouring hot maple syrup onto the snow and rolling it up on a stick. That sticky maple taffy is one of the most delicious treats!”
So, as you can tell, maple syrup season is a busy time for farmers in Canada, and a blissful time for sweet-toothed Canadians (and visitors). To celebrate this beautiful time of year, we’ve created a round-up of some of the best maple syrup farms in Ontario which you can check out when you touch down in Toronto.
Maple syrup farms in Ontario
Mountsberg Maple Town
Distance from Toronto Airport: 32 miles (35-minute drive)
As Justin and Lauren mentioned previously, there’s plenty of fun to be had (and maple taffy to eat) at the sugar bush in Mountsberg. Set within a conservation area, this beautiful park is home to roughly 400 maple trees, and serves delicious pancakes at its Pancake House. Usually open from the end of February to the beginning of April, this sugar bush is only a short drive from Toronto Airport.
Horton Tree Farms
Distance from Toronto Airport: 38 miles (40-minute drive)
Image: Horton Tree Farms
Maple harvesting began at Horton Tree Farms in 1961, when professional forester Keith Horton, teacher Joy Horton and their three small sons moved to the farm which was part Scotch pine plantation and part maple forest. Over the next 40 years, the family transformed the property into a conservation area with ponds, nature trails and a hand-operated maple syrup operation. You’re guaranteed a warm welcome from the Horton family on your visit, as well as plenty of fresh air and maple treats. Horton Tree Farms also hosts an annual Maple Syrup Festival in March.
White Meadows Farms, St. Catharines
Distance from Toronto Airport: 70 miles (1 hour 5 minutes’ drive)
Image: White Meadows Farms
The Bering family settled on a 200-acre farm in 1937, originally raising dairy cows, growing grapes and producing cash crops. Every summer the meadows outside the family’s kitchen window bloomed with pretty white daisies, which gave the farm its current name – White Meadows Farms. In 1940 the family began experimenting with maple syrup harvesting, and by 1985, the practice had evolved and passed down among relatives. In 1993, the family began serving their maple syrup and pancakes to visitors outside a modified greenhouse called The Pancake Hut.
Today, with over 75 years’ experience, the Bering family produce their own delicious, authentic 100% pure maple syrup. As well as learning about the history of White Meadows Farms and the production of their indulgent maple syrup, you can buy some to take home.
Shaw’s Maple Syrup Bush, Oro-Medonte
Distance from Toronto Airport: 73 miles (1 hour 5 minutes’ drive)
Harvesting maple syrup since 1904, the team at Shaw’s Maple Syrup Bush know a thing or two about this sweet Canadian treat. Many of the farm’s original trees are still producing sap today. The farm also has a cosy pancake house and offers visitors horse-drawn wagon rides through their beautiful woodland trails. A visit to Shaw’s Maple Syrup Bush is truly a great way to enjoy maple syrup season.
Sandy Flat Sugar Bush & Pancake House, Warkworth
Distance from Toronto Airport: 98 miles (1 hour 40 minutes’ drive)
Image: Sandy Flat Sugar Bush
Get your sugar fix at Sandy Flat Sugar Bush and Pancake House. Set in rural Warkworth, the farm is open seasonally from 10am-2pm and offers a huge range of maple syrup products. In the last three weeks of March and at the weekends throughout April, the pancake house opens for delicious pancake breakfasts. Be sure to call ahead to reserve a spot at the table. If you’re visiting in 2019, don’t miss out on the annual Warkworth Maple Syrup Festival. This year it took place on 10th and 11th of March.
Crinklaw Maple Products, London
Distance from Toronto Airport: 109 miles (1 hour 40 minutes’ drive)
— Crinklaw’s Syrup (@LdnSugarBush) February 16, 2018
The craft of maple syrup making has been passed down through eight generations of the Crinklaw family, which takes great pride in producing high-quality maple syrup. Arriving from Scotland in 1832, the Crinklaw family settled on the farm and harvested maple sugar in the spring with their community. Nowadays, when spring rolls around, a fire is lit under the same iron kettle used in 1832 as part of the family’s sugar making demonstrations in March. If you’ve booked your flights to Toronto in time, don’t miss out on this fantastic experience at Crinklaw Maple Products.
Long’s Maple Sugarbush, Laurier
Distance from Toronto Airport: 180 miles (2 hours 45 minutes’ drive)
Opening its doors as soon as the sap starts to flow in early March, Long’s Maple Sugarbush welcomes hungry visitors with open arms. The family business has gone from strength to strength and now runs 11,000 taps during maple syrup season. As well its homely sugar shack and modern evaporator house, visitors can wander along the farm’s trail to the top of the bush, or roam through 200 acres of sugar maple trees. If you find yourself in the area out of season, then don’t worry as Long’s Maple Syrup products are available to buy all year round, including maple candies and maple tea.
Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush
Distance from Toronto Airport: 239 miles (4 hours 10 minutes’ drive)
The story of Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush goes all the way back to the early 1840s when Scottish immigrant John Fulton and his two brothers left East Kilbride near Glasgow to start afresh in rural Ontario. Settling on a 400-acre plot of woodland, including thousands of maple trees, the brothers are said to have learned the craft of maple syrup making from First Nations people.
Today, many of the farm’s original trees, now 200 years old, are still producing sweet sap. The team is led by Shirley Deugo, a fourth generation Fulton, and her son, Scott Deugo. As well as its abundance of tasty treats, Fulton’s is worth visiting for its picturesque Nordic trails.
Sampling maple syrup in Toronto
Whether it’s maple syrup season or not, you can always get your sugar fix in the city of Toronto. Selling fresh local produce and the finest Canadian treats, St Lawrence Market is an excellent choice if you’re looking to sample maple syrup in Toronto. Several stalls within this colourful market sell maple syrup bottles and products. Look out for popular Ontario brand Jakeman’s.
Alternatively, a visit to the Distillery Sunday Market in Toronto’s lively Distillery District comes highly recommended. As well as plenty of maple syrup, the artisan market sells delicious Canadian cuisine, hand-crafted sweets and jewellery. If you’re looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat with an added serving of maple syrup, check out Bannock. This restaurant specialises in Canadian comfort food and incorporates maple syrup into many of its dishes, including delicious brunches. Look out for their maple-smoked haddock hash and indulgent Perth county porchetta and maple cheddar bake. Bannock’s maple brioche doughnuts, complete with maple custard and bacon, are a tasty favourite.
Image credits: Vince Along