Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Saugeen Valley Maple Syrup Time

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Snow flat farm fields show signs of spring as we drive down Bruce Road 3 under a cloudless sky filled with sunshine. Patches of fall-ploughed brown mud and harvested beige corn stalks break through here and there. Crows pick and feed on them. Creeks and streams run free. Some snow and ice still survives on their banks. But the melt is on. Spring is well on its way. The sap is running.

Were heading to the Old-Tyme Maple Syrup Festival at the Saugeen Valley Conservation Area between Paisley and Burgoyne. Last time we did this we lived in Toronto. Our daughter was just a child and the memory of the experience is vague to say the least. Now that we live in the country we’re eager to see if it is any different.

Signs warn us of upcoming stands selling maple syrup roadside. We see the distinctive black Mennonite carriage first. The gentleman in black has unhitched his horses and let them feed in the field. Further down at the edge of farmstead driveways are more stands and more syrup for private sale. Obviously if you have a stand of maples and a small sugar shack on your property you can set yourself up in business during syrup season – no problem.

What surprises us as we draw near is the long line of cars stretching from the highway entrance and out of sight down the road. Mid-day and the place is packed. For a brief moment we contemplate turning back. But,there’s a shuttle bus that runs out of Paisley, so we keep going.

Again, to our surprise, there are more cars parked in tiny Paisley than we’ve ever seen. And the line-up for the bus runs from the arena entrance to the parking lot (which is jammed with cars). Street parking is our only alternative. It’s a good thing small towns haven’t discovered parking meters

Young families, grandparents – teenagers, locals and out-of-towners, everyone is in a good mood though. The big yellow school buses run every 10 minutes and no one had to stand. As we ride past the long line ofparked cars on the Conservation Area entrance road we know we’ve made the right decision.

Once there we are caught up in the crowds and the diversity of the place. There are line-ups everywhere but no one is complaining. Kid-packed strollers and wagons are pushed and pulled through the ice-rutted roads. Soggy sawdust and wood shavings fill the puddles. Snow still sits in the forest. The scent and smoke of wood fires hovers over the park.  Everyone is red-nosed and rosy-cheeked and enjoying themselves.

A man dressed as Grey Owl tells stories about how the First Nations first discovered maple syrup…tall tales and legends that make kids believe and adults smile. There’s a sheep shearing demonstration – an animal barn with baby goats,chicks, rabbits and piglets – horse drawn wagon rides – a petting pen with sheep jostling people and hungry lamas eating out of your hand – a blacksmith and forge  – historical exhibits with trappers in buckskins sitting by wood fires outside their tents – bush survival tricks – tree tapping and sugar shanties with giant cauldrons of boiling sap.Music and native drumming is everywhere.

Four men looking like Davey Crocket show off and shoot authentic muskets and muzzleloaders. Black powder makes quite a noise.

We eat fresh made doughnuts dipped in maple butter cooked in oil over an open wood fire. Pancakes and sausages smothered in maple syrup are our lunch.

After seeing it all we realize how late it is. The school buses are waiting. This couldn’t be better.

On the drive home we talk about how this maple sugar experience outdoes all the others. And we guess that it’s all about the people, the place and the fact that you can’t get the sap to run unless spring is well on its way.




Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

March 30, 2008 at 8:29 PM

Posted in Home Town

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