Once Upon a Time: Making Maple Syrup – 1905

Making Maple Syrup – 1905

Arthur Alexander recalled late-winter days long ago in Bruce County, a time when farmers harvested their sweet “first crop of the year”

It was usually the farm youth that excitedly made the announcement that “sap’s runnin’.” The maple syrup-making equipment of the pioneers was a far cry from our modern day setup. Wooden spiles, ten to twenty inches long, were tapered to fit into holes bored into maple trees by a brace and bit. Containers to hold the sap which flowed drip by drip through the spiles were made by splitting blocks of basswood or cedar logs. These were then hollowed out in the centre, creating a trough big enough to each hold about two gallons of sap.


               Boiling Maple Syrup at Rainboth’s Bush, Amabel Township – Courtesy of Bruce                                                 County Museum & Cultural Centre, A956.070.010

A very useful tool was a yoke for carrying the full pails of sap. Soft wood was shaped to fit over the shoulders and around the neck with a hook and light rope at each end to catch the pail handles. The weight was thus transferred to the shoulders, leaving both hands free to steady the pails. The first day was occupied by breaking a road to the bush, shovelling out a campsite, and fastening a heavy pole between two trees from which hung the kettles for boiling. The second day was spent in tapping the trees, placing the receptacles and hanging the pots. Then the harvest could begin.

March usually found us with three or four feet of snow in the bush. When the weather began to warm up, the sap began to run. Ideal weather saw warm sunny days and cold frosty nights. Great quantities of wood were needed to boil the sap. Steam and smoke rose up to bother the eyes and nose of the attendees. To extract one gallon of maple syrup from 40 to 50 gallons of sap required much effort and concentration. When the sap came almost to the syrup stage, fat pork rinds were fastened on a stick and dipped into the finishing kettle to prevent it from boiling over. When the syrup would string freely as a sample was poured through the cool air, it was considered done. In possibly three weeks, the sap stopped running and the season was over. But work still continued.

More next month …


This article was originally written for the 1975 Bruce County Historical Society Year Book and adapted by Bob Johnston.