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A sweet way to celebrate the season

In this Following Up feature we catch up with folks from the Urban Sugaring Project as they drop off sap to project coordinator John Dennis

Maple syrup is a cultural elixir for many Canadians and for about 80 members of the Guelph Urban Sugaring Project, tapping the trees, collecting the sap and boiling it down is a rite of spring. 

“We will get about 4,000 litres from 100 trees,” said project coordinator from the Guelph Tool Library, John Dennis. “That will boil down to about 100 litres of syrup. The ratio is actually about 45 to 1 but just to make the numbers nice and even I say 40 to 1.” 

Every Monday and Thursday during the sap collecting season Dennis meets the local tree tappers in either the parking lot of the Church of the Apostles on Glasgow Street or at the Guelph Tool Library on Ontario Street to collect their sap.  

“I collect during the month of March but it is really weather dependent,” he said. “If we have weather like this everyday it will run for another three weeks. If it gets cold again for two weeks then the sap doesn’t run and the season extends for two weeks.” 

A steady flow of collectors arrived at Church of the Apostles Monday with their buckets of sap. Dennis weighed and checked each delivery before pouring the precious liquid  into a collection tank in the back of his truck. 

“I look at the sap and I taste it as part of my quality control,” said Dennis. “It should taste like water with a little sweetness to it. If it tastes weird I don’t take it. The sap can go off. It can get either a mold in it or a bacterial contamination in it.  I want to smell it and make sure it is clear. If it is cloudy or milk like I just dump it out. For the most part that doesn’t happen. We get great sap all the way through the season.”

The cold snap last week slowed the flow but people such as Karen Bremner brought what they had anyway. 

“I didn’t bring too much today,” said Bremner. “It has been too cold over this past week. This will be my second year. I tap two trees where I live up in the north end at Speedvale and Woolwich.” 

Bremner was followed by first-year tapper Michael McMurray

“We have two trees that we tapped,” he said. “This is not what I would call a generous serving of sap this time. It got really cold on us.”

Next up was Bob Woods who arrived on foot with a young helper pulling a wagon. 

“This is my next door neighbour Clem,” said Woods. “This is my second time. I got 34 pounds last week and I think I have 30 today. That’s from two trees.” 

Some trees yield more sap than others such as third-year tapper Mark Evans’ big maple  at his home on Allen Avenue.

“I have two taps in one tree,” said Evans. “It’s a big tree about 36 inches. I get about 300 or 400 pounds of sap from it over the course.”

Dennis will take all the sap and boil it down at his home in the country.

“I have a small woodlot, so I collect fallen wood in the summer,” he said. “I split it up and stack it and this time of year I get my little boilers going.”

The project was scaled back a bit this year.

“We have ran as many as 150 trees but that included the trees at John McCrae,” said Dennis. "They have tapped there for the past three years but not this year because of the teachers’ action. That is extracurricular and outside what they do as their core curriculum.”

The Guelph Tool Library held a free event at the start of the season to attract and equip would be tree tappers.

“About 125 people showed up. I sold most of the kits that day. The kits are $10 each and there is a $10 deposit. At the end of the season when they bring the kit back I give them their money back.” 

They also receive their share of the finished maple syrup.

“I guarantee everyone a minimal amount of about 250 ml, which is a small bottle,” said Dennis. “Depending on how people do I only do a maximum of one litre per tap.”  

However, due to the teachers’ action they won’t be holding a festival at the end of the season this year.

“We won’t be having a maple syrup festival, which we’ve had every year for the last three years because of what is going on,” he said.

“It has had very little impact on this project and what I do but I do miss the opportunity to get together with the larger community. We have typically seen up to 600 people show up and it was always a fun day, but I support the teachers and they have to do what they have to do.”