Touring Ontario’s Lake Country Maple Syrup Trail

Touring Ontario's Lake Country Maple Syrup Trail

Touring Ontario’s Lake Country Maple Syrup Trail

Touring Ontario’s Lake Country Maple Syrup Trail

By Habeeb Salloum

Our first stop on the Tap into Maple Route located in Ontario’s Lake Country was at Shaw’s Maple Syrup and Sugar Bush, a plantation of maple tree wonder and also home of the Shaw Pancake House near Orillia. In this vacation land of scenic tamed wilderness for Torontonians and thousands of other tourists, the Lake Country is an outdoor paradise. One of Canada’s most picturesque regions with gleaming lakes and rivers, it has, year-round, a wide-range of activities and other allurements, not least of which is the maple syrup season and its peripheral bounty.

We had come in early spring to enjoy this North American natural sweet, and at the same time explore this part of Canada where man had semi-tamed the land but left enough of nature for travellers and tourists to enjoy.

Shaw Pancake House

Shaw Pancake House

While relishing breakfast that included a large pile of pancakes saturated with homemade maple syrup, Tom Shaw, owner and manager of the Sugar Bush, enthusiastically talked about his passion for his family’s business. He is the 5th generation of Shaws who have been producing maple syrup on this farm and his son, making it the 6th, soon to follow. His great-grandfather began the business in 1904 by collecting the sap in pails and boiling it in cast-iron. This method continued until the 1970s when the system of tubing was installed.

Sated from a very filling meal, led by Tom, we walked to the edging sugar maple bush where we were shown the old method of sap dripping into buckets, a slow and tedious process. Just as Tom explained, we witnessed what must have been a near revolution in production technology when we watched how the tubing system works to collect sap. These tapped trees are connected by a system of plastic tubing that transports the sap from the trees to tanks where it is stored for distilling. The end product remains natural pure syrup without any chemical agents or preservatives.

Tapped Maple Tree

Tapped Maple Tree

At the point where the sap is collected we stopped to listen to Tom relate the story of maple syrup and its attributes. It was apparent that maple syrup and its many drawing cards was an integral part of his life.

Leaving Tom’s Sugar Bush behind I thought of the boiling sap – called by some of its fans ‘liquid gold’. Canada’s epitome of tourist-take-home-souvenirs, this sweet is sold in every type of packaging and endless forms. This day we planned to visit a number of outlets selling these products.

After stopping at Concord Candle where some of our group bought handmade candles that emit a maple aroma, we drove on to the Mariposa Market in Orillia.

Mariposa Market in Orillia

Mariposa Market in Orillia

An eye-catching spot in the middle of the quaint town of Orillia, it takes one back to the days of yore. In this turn of the century building there are 5 historic shops that include Orillia’s most celebrated bakeshop, defusing a tantalizing aroma, a quaint café, fudge and candy shop, featuring maple syrup products and much more.

Walking a short distance, we reached the Orillia Museum of Art and History, an ideal learning experience offering programs for families and children, and where we spent an hour, bought some maple syrup-based sweets from the gift shop, then left for lunch at the Era 67 Restaurant & Lounge in the heritage district of Orillia. The inspiration of the name is derived from the Era of 1867 when Canada became a nation. In this eating place with an aura of history, a maple syrup meal had been prepared for us. Every course had maple syrup as an ingredient. It was an unusual meal loved by the majority but barely tolerated by a few.

Tanked up with maple syrup, we continued on our meandering. We stopped for a while at the Hewitts Farm Market and Bakery in Coldwater – a family owned and operated business-farm. It features a large selection of fresh Ontario produce, home baked goods, home-made preserves, as well as meat, and dairy products.

A great attraction for families is its Fun Farm, a great adventure for families with activities such as pumpkin picking, climbing haystacks, hay rides, finding a way out of a corn maze and pedal carts.

From this fine sample of rural Ontario, we drove to the Christmas Villager located on the main street in the neat town of Coldwater. Advertising itself as a year-round one stop shop for Christmas decorations, toys, and crafts, it brings back the beauty of the holiday season that can be captured anytime during the year. It reminded me of Santa’s workshop – minus the elves! The store even stocks unique decorations such as maple leaf shaped items.

A number of our group bought some of these as souvenirs before we departed for Chelsea Chocolates, home, in the region, of ‘melt in your mouth’ chocolates. Made by hand and using fresh cream, butter, high quality flavourings and the finest in Belgian chocolate, the Chelsea stop is a delicious sweet stop on a delicious route of sweetness. It was the chocolates with maple syrup filling that overwhelmingly won us over.

Still munching on the chocolates that almost everyone in our group had purchased, we made our way to Nicholyn Farms offering year-round locally produced organic and traditionally raised foods with its bakery offering many kinds of freshly-baked cookies, breads and buns. Surrounded by the serenity of the countryside, to city dwellers it is an interesting place to spend a few hours. Only 10 minutes away from Barrie, Nicholyn Farms is the place to go for the natural bounty of Ontario’s Lake Country.

Touring Ontario's Lake Country Maple Syrup Trail

Touring Ontario’s Lake Country Maple Syrup Trail

Most of us were tired by the time we reached Lalonde’s Sugar Bush in Elmvale that annually features a new maple product. This year’s highlight is ‘Maple Cotton Candy’ made from the Lalonde’s own production of maple syrup. Very tasty, it is a children’s delight but also drew high kudos from all the adults in our group as we all enjoyed the pleasure of it melting in our mouths.

Tim, our gracious host and owner of Lalonde’s, took our group for a tour of the premises, all the while discussing the modern method for making maple syrup. Just like Tom at Shaw’s Bush, Tim too spoke with passion and pride about his work at producing an excellent quality of maple syrup. It was a great learning experience but the cold winds of nature drew us back to our warm bus for our final destination.

Overflowing with maple syrup we ended our tour at the Simcoe County Museum in Barrie. A well-organized museum with friendly accommodating staff, it is home to the rich history of Simcoe County. The Ross Channen Gallery, for example, focuses on the earliest inhabitants of the County and features a replica of a Huron-Wendat longhouse that visitors can explore. An impressive reproduction of Barrie’s Main Street is an exhibit that is a must-see. It takes visitors back to downtown Barrie at the turn of the 20th century with its recreations of stores and businesses that operated in the city between 1890 and 1910. Extremely well done, this exhibit is one of the best depictions of early Ontario’s settlements. In addition, the Museum is home to ten heritage buildings that have been relocated to the Museum from various locations in Simcoe County. These late 19th and early 20th century buildings depict daily life, and the growth and development of the area and are open to visitors from May until November.

Touring Ontario's Lake Country Maple Syrup Trail

Touring Ontario’s Lake Country Maple Syrup Trail

I sat back and reflected on our full day on the Maple Syrup trail. My travelling companion summed it all up, saying: “I really think that maple syrup is Canada’s hidden gold, a treasure that one can carry to other lands – a sweet reminder of our country!”

IF YOU GO:

Ontario’s Lake Country
Phone – Office : 705-325-9321
Toll Free Visitor Information: 1-866-329-5959 (Orillia Chamber)
Fax: 705-325-6817
Mailing Address
Box 2525
22 Peter Street South
Orillia, Ontario L3V 7A3

BIO:

Habeeb Salloum

Habeeb Salloum is a Canadian author who grew up in Saskatchewan, joined the RCAF during the Second World War, and then worked for the Canadian Department of National Revenue for 36 years. For the last 30 years he has been a full-time freelance writer and author specializing in food, history and travel. Besides 7 books and 20 chapters in books, he has had hundreds of articles about culture, food, travel, history and homesteading in western Canada appear in such publications as the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the Western Producer, Contemporary Review, Forever Young, Vegetarian Journal and Saveur.

Habeeb was awarded the 2013 Saskatchewan Tourism Travel Media Award by the Saskatchewan Tourism on April 10, 2014 for his literary work on travel, tourism and the culinary arts of that province.

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