By HEATHER STANLEY
The spring season is now underway, resulting in the arrival of Canada’s favourite sweet and sticky delicacy — maple syrup.
Canada is the largest producer of maple syrup, with 85 per cent of the world’s supply. Holding that title, it’s only fitting that Canada also holds the world’s largest maple syrup festival.
The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival kicked off its 51st year on March 28. It first began on April 10, 1965 with 2,500 coming out to enjoy the festivities. Since then it has grown into a world famous festival with approximately 70,000 people attending every year. It attracts visitors from all over the world including people from Europe and the U.S. and even all the way from the North Pole.
The event was held from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. this year and featured a variety of booths and attractions. Food-wise, apple fritters, legs of meat and deep fried foods covered the half-mile-long stretch called the “outdoor mall.” Of course, maple syrup products were in abundance with hundreds of litres being consumed throughout the one-day festival.
“I think we buy over 100 gallons a year and that’s just for the pancake tent,” said chairperson Drew McGovern. “However, someone asked me how much is sold and we were reckoning about $50,000 worth of syrup is actually sold on the day of the festival.”
The weather greatly affects the quality and quantity of maple syrup. The best conditions for syrup is when there is warm days accompanied by freezing nights. According to the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association (OMSPA), about 40 litres of sap is required to make one litre of syrup.
Only 10 per cent of sap is collected from maple trees to avoid damaging them. Trees can only be tapped three times a season. Ninety-seven per cent of sap is water.
“The sap, which comes out of the tree with a sugar content of approximately two per cent, is boiled until it reaches between 66 per cent and 67.5 per cent sugar content,” the OMSPA website said. The flavour and colour of syrup develops as it boils in the evaporator.
There are five colour classes of syrup that are made: extra light, light, medium, amber and dark. The darker the colour, the stronger the taste. Besides liquid syrup, other items that are made from sap are maple butter, maple taffy, sugar candies and granulated sugar.
Attractions at the festival were numerous. Patrons could visit Old McDonald’s Farm, watch blacksmiths, go to craft shows and even venture out to a local sugar bush on the edge of town where they could see the process of making maple syrup.
“It’s sort of a day where the township can showcase what we’re good at and what we’re known for,” said Devin Petteplace, the communication co-ordinator for Woolwich. Two new events were added this year. One of them was called the Pancake Mile and was organized by Waterloo Running Series.
“What you do is you eat a pancake, run a quarter of a mile, eat a pancake, and run another quarter mile,” McGovern said. “No throwing up is allowed.” The person who runs for the longest time is put into the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 2000 the festival was recognized by Guinness World Records for holding the largest festival with 66,529 attendees. That same year they gained the record of having the world’s largest syrup bucket which measured three feet in height, three feet and two inches in diameter, and had a capacity of 133 gallons.
The other new event was called “It’s An Honour” which was run by the Governor General’s office. Patrons could walk into a full-sized trailer and see a collection of medals. These awards went to those in the military and those who did heroic deeds.
“The festival is always a success,” Petteplace said. “It’s just a fantastic event and we hope that people come out to visit.”
Two thousand volunteers help out with the festival every year. At least $40,000 of the profits go back to the community through various not-for-profit organizations. Since it began in 1965, over $1 million has been donated.