After a three-year hiatus, the maple trees at the Despatie Maple Sugar Bush on Dominion Drive in Hanmer are once again being tapped.
Richard Despatie and his crew have been hard at it, tapping trees and collecting sap to boil down into sweet, sticky maple syrup for the past few days. The season begins later in Northern Ontario, he said, because the temperature has to be below freezing at night, and above freezing — from 3 C to 7 C — for the sap to be able to come up.
Some 1,200 taps have been put into those trees, and by the time the sap stops running, anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 gallons of sap will have flowed through the sugar shack.
“Here, it takes about 35 gallons of the sap to make about one gallon of maple syrup,” Despatie said.
It takes 60 years for a maple tree to grow up to 10 inches in diameter in Northern Ontario, which is the minimum size needed for a tap, he said.
“Our maples are hard sugar maples, and some of them here are more than 200 years old,” he said.
The Despatie Maple Sugar Bush has been in the family for three generations.
“My grandfather came to the valley in 1912, and he started tapping in 1914. I started tapping with my dad, who tapped until 2003, and I stopped in 2013 for health reasons.”
But now he's back, after some encouragement from his wife, although it may prove to be the last season the sugar bush is operated under the Despatie name. The sugar bush is currently up for sale.
“I have no children of my own to continue the family tradition,” he said. “It was nice that it has lasted this long, and we're happy to offer this to the public one last time. We've had a lot of calls in the past three years, and people were always disappointed when they found out it wasn't open.”
For that reason, the Despatie Maple Sugar Bush will start receiving school children beginning March 23 until April 14. The sugar bush will also be open three Sundays — March 26, April 2 and April 9 — from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visitors will be able to enjoy all-you-can-eat taffy and demonstrations featuring the history of tapping and making syrup.
It was his mother's idea, in 1967, to invite school children to learn about the process and its history. In its time, Despatie estimates in the neighbourhood of 150,000 school children have visited his family's sugar bush.
“This is a good opportunity for them to come and see it, perhaps one last time, being operated the way it has since 1967,” he said.