Ontario Maple Syrup festivals are an annual tradition, celebrating a natural sweetener and a great Canadian flavour. Where can you find a maple syrup festival near Toronto in the early spring of 2015?
First, just when are they held? And just how do we get maple syrup?
Early Spring Temperatures Make the Sap Run for Maple Syrup
Deciduous trees store sap, a watery sugar solution, in their roots for the winter. The sap had been drained away from the leaves in the autumn. The trees then prepare to bud their spring leaves by pumping the sap back up in early spring.
A specific type of tree, the Sugar Maple, has the sweetest sap, with up to 2% sugar. (Some other varieties can be tapped, but you have to boil off more water to get similar syrup). By hammering a small tap, or metal tube, into the tree as winter begins changing to spring, some sap can be drained from the sugar maple tree. Collect the sap, “reduce” it by boiling off most of the water, and you’ve got maple syrup. Evaporate even more water to create maple sugar.
Reducing the water content concentrates both the sugar and the unique maple flavour.
See “Making Maple Syrup” for more details.
Timing the Traditional Maple Syrup Festival
Farmers depend on weather conditions for crops to ripen; the they harvest the bounty when the plants are ready. In the same way, the person working a sugar bush only taps the trees when the sap is running. The ideal conditions require several days with the high temperatures above freezing, probably 5°C (41°F) or more, but below-freezing temperatures at night. The sap might run for a few weeks, but only if the temperatures fluctuate properly.
Modern Ontario maple syrup festivals require forward planning to coordinate vendors with civic infrastructure. This can challenge the people harvesting the sap.
The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival
Let’s start with perhaps the best-known Ontario maple syrup festival, the Elmira syrup festival. Elmira is a small town in southern Ontario, west of Toronto, Mississauga, and Guelph; and north of Kitchener-Waterloo. Frugal shoppers should find bargains for locally prepared maple syrup in Elmira (even if it does not “cut your grocery bill in half” overall). They also sell a variety of other foods to keep you happy for the day.
The 2015 Elmira maple syrup festival will be held on March 28, from 7am-4pm. Check the map in that site for detailed directions once you’re in Elmira.
Three Maple Syrup Festivals near Toronto
One web site covers three festivals near Toronto: at Bruce’s Mills; the Kortwright Centre; and the Terra Cotta Centre. Admission is under $10/person, plus HST; they recommend buying tickets online. Each site offers different programs on their own schedules; but they all serve pancakes and syrup for breakfast (at an extra cost).
The Bruce’s Mills Conservation Centre’s maple sugar festival runs from Feb. 28 until April 6, 2015 but only Wed.-Sundays. The maple syrup demonstrations are held on weekends and during March Break, from 10am – 4:30pm; but I’d phone ahead (416-661-6600) to make reservations and be sure of just what’s on tap that day.
Find Bruce’s Mills at 3291 Stouffville Road in Stouffville, just north of Toronto. I’d take Hwy 404 north, then east on road 14 (which is Stouffville Road), past Warden Ave.
The Kortwright Centre also hosts its festival from Feb. 28 through April 6, and should be open every day. Again, phone ahead (905-832-2289) to be sure of what they offer on any given day. Find 9550 Pine Valley Drive between Major Mackenzie Drive and Rutherford Road, and well west of highway 27 and Islington Ave. but east of Weston Road.
The Terra Cotta Conservation Area’s festival is only open for March weekends, plus the week of March Break (March 16-20), plus April 3-5. They’re pretty quiet about any special programs or activities, so if the location suits you, be sure to call 1 (800) 367-0890 for their details. The Terra Cotta Conservation Area is at 14452 Winston Churchill Blvd. in Halton Hills. I might start from Acton, take Main St. (Hwy 25) NW to the Halton-Erin Road (45), turn NE and then go SE on route Winston Churchill Blvd (19).
Venture Further Afield to Bronte Creek for Maple Syrup Month
Bronte Creek Provincial Park’s web page has several sections, including the map. They don’t say much about why “March is Maple Syrup Month”, but it is open every day except Christmas.
Bronte Creek Park is south-west of Oakville; I’d take Hwy 25 north from the QEW/Hwy 403.
Buying Maple Syrup and Maple Syrup Recipes Online
If you missed out on buying Elmira maple syrup, order certified organic maple syrup from Quebec via Amazon Canada. This maple syrup product is amber grade, between the light and dark shades of maple syrup.
Who wants maple syrup recipes so you can go beyond flapjacks and syrup? Amazon Canada offers “The Maple Syrup Cookbook 2: 40 More Easy, Delicious & Healthy Maple Syrup Recipes for Breakfast Lunch & Dinner (Maple SuperFoods) [Kindle Edition]“. The one very happy reviewer said, “…Anyone who loves this syrup needs to have a copy of this book”.
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