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Maple Syrup Season in Ontario

Photographer: Stephen Morrison


The annual maple syrup season marks the end of the often brutal central Canadian winters and heralds the beginning of spring. The maple tree, whose leaf dominates the Canada's flag, plays both a symbolic and practical role in the identity of Canadians who produce around 95 percent of the world's supply of maple syrup.


The maple tree stores starch in their trunks and roots before the cold of winter sets in and is then converted to simple sugars which rise in a liquid commonly known as sap in the spring. Producers tap into this natural flow to collect the sap which is boiled down to produce Maple Syrup - a golden, sweet and sticky liquid with the distinctive flavor of maple.


Sugarbush 'farmers' use the short 4-6 week season to collect as much sap as possible because it takes between 35-40 parts of fresh sap to produce 1 part of finished Maple Syrup. The sap begins to run when the ground around the roots of the tree begins to thaw, usually near the end of February, when daytime temperatures exceed 5C (41F) and night-time temperatures dip below freezing and the season ends when the trees begin to bud, usually before the end of April.


Maple syrup producers in Canada range from small mom and pop operations using the traditional manual methods on hobby farms to automated laboratories employing plastic lines that snake through massive forests filling high-tech reverse osmosis systems and propane fuelled evaporators with thousands of gallons of sap daily.


Wayne Pelton's day starts with an early morning feed of his two blonde Belgian draft horses who have both worked his sugar bush for over 20 years. The 70-year-old farmer who has been making maple syrup every year his whole life flits over the thin crust of frozen snow carrying two one gallon pails of sap to his horse sleigh. The horses haul the 1,200 pounds (550Kg) of the collected sap through the snow to the sugar shack where his wife Janet keeps a wood fire going under the evaporator until all of the days sap is boiled down into pure maple syrup.