Sugaring Off: A Quebec Tradition -- 2011 QAHN Hometown Heritage Essay Contest Winner!

Carley Grinfeld**
Norman Edson, Sugaring off, Glen Sutton, Quebec, 1910. (Photo - Missisquoi Historical Society Collection)

Did you know that maple syrup is the oldest agricultural product in Quebec? It all began with the Indigenous peoples who called it “Sweet Water.” When spring returned and the maple sap was running the Indigenous peoples offered the boiled thickened syrup as a sacrifice to the Great Spirit. “Sugaring off” was largely a woman’s function in Iroquois communities. The men cut notches into tree trunks and small wooden troughs were stuck into the bark. In the early stages of European colonization the Indigenous peoples showed the arriving colonists how to tap the trunks of maple trees during the early spring. By 1680, European settlers were involved in harvesting maple products. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, processed maple sap was a major source of sweetener. Maple “sugaring off” parties began to operate near sugar bushes and houses. In 1800 it was still widely used. The produce of maple syrup had an added benefit of getting extra income.

The vast majority of maple syrup comes from Quebec. The province is the world’s largest producer with about 75% of the world's production totalling 24,660,000 litres. Production in Quebec is controlled by the government. Nowadays the production is very different from the days of gathering the sap on a horse-drawn sleigh and boiling the sap in pans over a wood fire. “Sugaring-off” time is that brief space between winter and spring when the snow starts to melt and sap begins to flow in the maple groves. Despite the technological advances in farming techniques production of the maple syrup remains largely a “family operation” essentially unchanged from its traditional past.

Today a Quebec tradition is for families or groups to go to a “sugar shack” or more commonly known as a “Cabanes à Sucre” where you can taste the delicious syrup on clean snow. It is a wonderful and traditional activity. There are numerous sugar shacks located all over Quebec.

**Carley Grinfeld is a Grade 4 student at Royal Vale Elementary School in Montreal.