The sap is flowing

Sugar shack season is here and many families in the area are making incredible maple syrup. For most of them it is a passion that has been passed on from one generation to the other. You might not always see the shacks from the road, as they are often nestled in the woods; but these producers are working to make some of the finest maple syrup in the Townships.

I met with two of the local syrup makers: the Masons on Iron Hill Road and Paul Hébert on Glen Road in West Bolton. They have lots of stories to tell, some that could not even be printed here…and you will have to twist their arms to hear them.

History is everywhere

At the Mason’s farm, it is Peter, Susan Mason’s son who is now in charge of maple sugaring. He is helped by George Mason, Susan’s cousin, and Frank Morely who would not miss any part of it.

When Susan bought her first sugar shack from another Mason years ago, she said that she loved the fact the place had so much history. She remembers sparkles escaping from the vents at nights, “it was like fireworks” she said. In early years, you could even spot Beverly Mason dressed in her hospital uniform driving her skidoo at night on her way to help her father finish the boiling. Susan remembers the first time she picked up the sap from the buckets. When she put them back on the trees, she was in for a treat, as each drop of sap hitting the bottom of the metal buckets was making a different sound creating a natural symphony!

Susan Mason’s first sugar shack – not used anymore

When she later bought her farm, she inherited two other sugar shacks that belonged to her aunt Irene and uncle Roger Mason. Both shacks were side by side and one was operated by her aunt and the other one by her uncle. Their son George still helps Peter make the syrup every year and he told me that his parents had a friendly competition as to who was making the best syrup. There was “Her shack” and “His shack”, side by side, standing about 15 feet apart. “My mom was the best boiler,” he told me. “She took more risks than my father and was more attentive to the process.” She used a technique where she would only put a little bit of sap in the pan and make it boil quickly. It required her to be extremely focused to avoid burning the syrup.

The shacks are now falling apart but we can still feel their spirits there and we can easily imagine the friendly rivalry that once existed between husband and wife during sugaring season. In the new shack, Peter is concentrated on the task, it is a work of art to make good maple syrup, it takes concentration and lots of patience. Every day that he is boiling, he writes the dates on a wood plank on the wall, one plank per year! He’s now in his 9th year!

Left to right: Peter Mason transfering the syrup after boiling and before filtering; Peter Mason boiling sap in steamy sugar shack; Paul Hébert transfering syrup after boiling

The choice of Bill and Hillary

Paul Hébert, on Glen Road, took over his father’s shack in 1999 and is doing most of the work on his own. He is making some of the best syrup in the region. He prides himself in trying to have a green operation by using smaller size tubes for taps. “It is less intrusive on the trees” he tells me, “I went from using 7/16 to 1/4 inch”. Among his clients, some famous people like Bill and Hillary Clinton are big fans of his maple syrup. In addition to the regular bottle, Paul also makes custom glass bottles for corporate and private clients. Always a great gift to offer.

Where to buy their maple syrup:

Susan and Peter Mason – at De la Ferme à la table at 605 Knowton Road or directly at the farm on Iron Hill Road.

Paul Hébert – at his sugar shack on 87 Glen Road, through his website or at IGA on Knowlton Road. For custom orders, contact him directly.

Top image: Paul Hébert adding wood to boil the sap. All images by Nathalie Rivard

Read also: Early Sugaring History