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Making maple syrup in a mining town: This Copper Cliff street is a suburban sugar bush

With the co-operation of his neighbours, Mike Thompson produced four litres of syrup last year

Copper Cliff may be a mining town, but one of its residents, Mike Thompson, has turned it into a maple sugar bush.

Thompson said he became familiar with the process of making maple syrup by helping out at an Iron Bridge maple sugar bush belonging to some acquaintances.

One early spring day about four years ago, his father-in-law remarked that the maple tree in front of the Cobalt Street house Thompson shares with his wife Cheryl and two daughters was “all full of sap.”

So on a fluke, he decided to tap it, and that first year, he got enough sap to produce a small jar of maple syrup.

Since that first year, Thompson, who has lived on the street since 1995, has gradually ramped up his maple syrup operation.

He taps neighbours' maple trees along Cobalt Street — he said his neighbours have all been generous in allowing him to tap their trees — and even at nearby Copper Cliff Public School.

Last year, after tapping 10 trees, Thompson collected about 160 litres of sap, and was able to produce about four litres of syrup. This year he's tapped 15 trees, and hopes to produce even more syrup than last year.

Thompson uses a small, gas-fired evaporator to boil the sap down most of the way, and then he brings it inside for further boiling, turning it into the maple syrup we're all familiar with.

Making maple syrup can be tricky — one year he boiled his sap for too long, and ended up with a cake of hard maple sugar.

His two daughters, Julia, 13, and Leila, 8, often help him collect sap from around the neighbourhood. 

“Well, I think it's awesome,” said Julia.

“He's getting the whole community involved because they're all offering for him to tap their trees, so it's kind of like a community thing.”

Producing suburban maple syrup is an all-around good time, Thompson said.

“I really enjoy it,” he said. “You're outside. You're getting fresh air. 

“If it's a nice day, you rush home and say 'OK, the sap's running,' and that makes you happy. Then I'm outside boiling, and the kids are playing. You do two things at once, and then you have maple syrup at the end. And I like maple syrup.”

Thompson doesn't just keep the sweet stuff for family consumption. Last year, he brought some to a pancake meal at Copper Cliff United Church.

And he's also turned it into an educational activity at Copper Cliff Public School, where his daughters attend school.

Last year, as his younger daughter's class looked on, he tapped the school's maple trees. He later showed them how to boil sap down into maple syrup and treated them to a pancake meal with genuine Copper Cliff maple syrup.

Thompson, who sits on the school's parent council, plans to do the same thing again this year.

His efforts to show the kids about maple syrup production is “pretty incredible,” said the school's principal, Kendra Mihell.

More than just being fun, it's educational activity, she said. “It led to a discussion of ratios back in the classroom of how much sap is actually needed to make maple syrup,” she said.

Thompson said he enjoys showing kids that maple syrup isn't just something that comes out of a bottle, and wants to spark their curiosity.

“I hope they'll see how much work maple syrup is,” he said. 

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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