We can give thanks to Canada’s Native peoples for teaching the early settlers how to make maple syrup from the “sweet water” that dripped from maple trees. In addition to providing a sugar rush, the sticky liquid packed a powerful punch of antioxidants and a host of other nutrients including zinc and vitamin B, making maple syrup an invaluable resource. In the early years, a wooden spout was inserted into the trees while a hanging basket collected the clear-coloured sap. The sweet water was then boiled to produce the thick, gold-coloured syrup we now drizzle on our Sunday pancakes.
Today, modern sugar bushes use thin plastic tubing that, seen from above, looks like a giant spider web in the forest. The tubes collect the sap from tapped trees and send it to sugar shacks where it gets made into maple syrup.
During the early spring, the Ottawa Valley’s many sugar bushes are abuzz with activity. Maple syrup season begins in late February (when average temperatures of 5°C during the day and -5°C at night start the sap running through the trees) and ends in mid- to late April.
In addition to serving up the golden syrup, many sugar bushes now produce other maple-based items, including barbecue sauce, teas and even beauty products. Organize your trip to the nation’s capital around this sweet Canadian treat and discover for yourself what makes it so special.
Six Maple Inspired Activities
North America’s only urban sugar bush is wedged into 17 acres of land in Ottawa’s Vanier neighbourhood, just 10 minutes from Parliament Hill. At the operation’s annual Maple Sugar Fest (taking place this year from March 31 to April 6), you can walk the paths of the heritage maple forest, visit the sugar shack and take part in a lumberjack competition.
Who knew maple syrup could be so luxurious? The Holtz Spa’s Maple Luscious Scrub and Wrap treatment uses a maple sugar scrub to gently exfoliate skin, and maple body butter to moisturize. Sink into the warm cocooning waterbed, allowing the sweet scent of maple to awaken your senses.
Experience country living in the heart of the city. This working educational farm has year-round exhibits on farm life in Ottawa. Observe the milking of dairy cows, watch butter being made and, in the spring, take a lesson on cooking with maple syrup.
Located 25 minutes from downtown Ottawa, Stanley’s is a favourite with local kids, thanks, in part, to its petting farm. Enjoy a pancake brunch at the pancake house, taste taffy made on fresh Canadian snow and visit the heritage sugar shack to learn about the process of maple syrup collection.
This 160-year-old family farm is one of the best-loved sugar camps in Lanark County. Feel like you’re part of the Fulton family as you tour the 400-acre forest by horse-drawn carriage and learn the history of maple syrup-making. Be sure to try Fulton’s line of maple bath and beauty products, created by fourth-generation farmer Shirley Fulton Duego.
Open year-round, the museum takes you through the process of maple syrup production from its early days until now. Marvel at displays of old-fashioned maple syrup-making equipment, sample the Gibbons’ family syrup, then stop by the gift shop for treats like maple mustard, maple jelly and maple cotton candy.