A1.1 explain how various features, including built, physical, and social features of communities, can contribute to identities in and images of a territory and/or country (e.g., built features such as memorials, different types of buildings, parks, canals, dams, railroads; physical features such as climate, landscape, vegetation, wildlife; social aspects such as cultural traditions, religious celebrations, economic bases; geographic, political, and/or socioeconomic boundaries between communities), and assess the contribution of some of these features to images of and identities in Canada (e.g., with reference to resource-based communities such as mining or logging towns or fishing outports; the Canadian winter; landscapes such as mountains, prairies, sea coasts, tundra; wildlife such as moose, elk, beaver, bison, cod; the variety of populations with heritages from around the world in neighbourhoods in some of Canada’s largest cities)
Lanark County is famous for its heritage of maple syrup making throughout history. The landscape offers large groves of maple trees that make it an ideal location for this time honoured tradition. It is sustained today by the ancestors of those who learned the ancient techniques from the Indigenous people who first practiced this rite of spring.
An oral history tells of Algonquins who made their way from the eastern Quebec regions down the Ottawa River to the Mississippi River when the waterways began to melt in spring. From the Mississippi, they travelled along a smaller river that led them to a pair of lakes. At the south end of the narrow lake, they found a natural rise in the landscape that is now known as Porcupine Mountain. A grove of Tamarack trees provided food for many porcupines as well as valuable items for the Algonquins. The wood was useful for constructing things like snowshoes. The inner bark could be scraped, ground and added to flour. The fresh, spring needles were boiled to make a soothing tea. Boiled spring shoots made a nutritious food. The lake nearby provided opportunity to fish and the surrounding forest had plenty of wildlife for hunting. At the base of the mountain, large maple trees were abundant. This area was naturally sheltered and made an ideal place for a spring camp. It is said that the Algonquins harvested the maple sugar from the trees by making a horizontal slash in the bark of the tree with an axe. A flat piece of birch bark, wood chip or reed was wedged into the cut and positioned on an angle to direct the sap that flowed from the opening to a birch bark trough placed at the bottom of the tree. Birch bark is pliable and liquid proof making it useful for this purpose. When the settlers arrived in the area, they watched as the Algonquins heated rocks in the coals of the fire and then placed these hot rocks into the sap in the birch troughs. They repeated this process until the water content of the sap had evaporated in steam and left a concentrated, sugary substance in the trough. This substance could be scraped out and packed into small bark molds. They used this sugar substance to sweeten and preserve their food.
click the water to view a sketch of Taylor Lake showing the Tamarack and Maple trees near Porcupine Mountain at southwest end of the lake
click on the maple leaf to view a Heritage Moment: Maple Syrup
The settlers had limited access to refined sugar that had to be imported from overseas. The Algonquins traded the maple sugar they made for items the settlers had brought with them. Some of the first items acquired by the Algonquins were iron pots in which they could boil the sap making the process quicker and more efficient. They would bury the pots in the ground when they left their camps and dig them up again for use when they returned to the area the following spring.
iron kettle used for boiling sap over an open fire in the maple bush Middleville and District Museum
Learning the Way
Lanark County settlers observed the Algonquins and learned how to tap the maple trees and gather the sweet sap. The settlers soon began to use their tools to drill holes in the trees. They carved wooden spiles that fit into these holes and directed the sap to a wooden trough at the bottom of the tree. When the troughs were filled, the contents were dumped into larger wooden buckets and carried on a sled to a fireplace nearby in the bush. The settlers used large iron kettles suspended over the fire.
Artifacts from Middleville and District Museum
iron gouge for tapping trees
wooden mallet for hammering wooden spiles into taps in trees
carved wooden spile
hollowed out wooden trough that would sit at the bottom of the tree under the spile to collect dripping sap
wooden bucket with iron bands and wire hook
Early Technological Developments
Through the years, the equipment the settlers used became more refined and the process they used became more efficient. Eventually, blacksmiths made iron spiles and tinsmiths made tin buckets. The use of metal increased the longevity of the buckets and spiles. As metal became more available, the round kettles were replaced with flat bottomed pans that provided more surface area over the fire. Fire boxes were built and the pans were expanded to cover them. Large tanks were built to carry the sap to a sugar shack where these fireboxes and pans were located.
Artifacts from the Middleville and District Museum
iron spiles with evolving designs through the years
tin bucket made locally in Middleville
Making maple syrup and sugar became, not only, a way to supply the family's needs for sugar and sweetening, but also, provided the settlers with enough product to trade for other supplies and services they needed.
In spring, maple trees that have stored starch in their roots over winter begin to convert it to sugar. When temperatures become warmer, the sap flows through the tree carrying the sugar with it. When the tree is tapped, the liquid that flows out is sweet. The sugar content of the sap can provide energy when people drink it. To preserve this substance rich in sugar, it needs to be boiled down to a concentrated form. Maple syrup and maple sugar can be stored for an extensive time. The nutritional value and the ability to be easily stored for long periods of time made maple syrup a very beneficial product for both the Indigenous people and settlers.
click on the maple leaf to view the nutritional value of maple syrup
Modern maple syrup producers have pipelines that crisscross the maple bush connecting each tree to a network that draws the sap with a vacuum system to a central storage tank. The sap is moved to the sugar shack and then makes its way through a series of pans that are temperature controlled with the use of modern technology.
click on the maple leaf for more information about maple syrup and how it is made
Today, production of maple syrup, sugar and various maple based products is a thriving business. There are operations of all sizes throughout Quebec and Ontario. Associations have been formed to support and promote the sale of maple products. Tourists are drawn to the sugar making operations to see traditional methods demonstrated, participate in activities and purchase maple products. Many operations offer meals, sleigh rides, wilderness trail walks and taffy treats as a way to get consumers to become loyal customers.
click on the maple leaf to visit the Lanark and District Maple Syrup Producers Association (LDMSPA)