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On a sappy sweet Saturday (8 photos)

Guelph's first maple syrup festival attracts hundreds

Guelph’s first maple syrup festival saw its first 300 visitors in the event’s first hour on Saturday. It would be safe to the say that the John McCrae Public School sugar bush has never seen so many visitors at one time.

The lineup for pancakes slathered with Guelph-made syrup was substantial and constant, taxing the kitchen help throughout the three-hour Sugar in the City festival.

The fun learning and eating experience was a collaboration between Transition Guelph’s Urban Sugaring Project, the Upper Grand District School Board’s environmental leadership program Headwaters, and John McCrae Public.

Beth McEwen is the teacher librarian at the school, and the pioneer of the idea of tapping the school’s maple trees. There is a neat few rows of them encircling the school grounds.

“The view from the library windows is the sugar bush,” McEwen said, as she helped coordinate the pancake operation. She tapped a few trees a couple of years ago, but the quantity of sap was too much for her to boil down herself. Then she talked to John Dennis, who heads up the Urban Sugaring Project. An agreement was tapped.

Last year, 10 of the school’s maples were tapped, the sap collected and delivered to the Urban Sugaring Project's sugar shack. This year, 25 trees were tapped.

“It’s been a fantastic project,” McEwen said. “Most classes in the school now are involved in tapping and collecting.”

She said the turnout for Saturday’s mini-festival was beyond her wildest dreams. The proceeds form the pancake breakfast/brunch will go to pay for the sugaring operation, and to potentially add a new, young maple to the bush.

Out on the grounds, kids learned the basics of tapping a maple tree. There was a log sawing activity, and a local wildlife identification game in the bush along the Speed River. Sap was boiled on the spot, rendered down to a sugary sweet drink and sampled by visitors. Many wanted seconds.

Finnegan MacRae, 6, drilled a hole in a test log for the first time. His mom, Lisa MacRae, said the event was a true Canadian experience for the family.

“It has definitely been a good time for the kids,” she added, adding the family goes through a lot of maple syrup every year.

Katie Gad is a teacher in the Headwaters Program. She, along with John Dennis, and Transition Guelph’s Susan Carey, described the success of the first festival as "awesome" and "very exciting."

Gad said hands-on activities are the best way for people to learn about something like tapping sap and making syrup, or any other outdoor skill.

“This event shows that a maple syrup festival can happen in the city,” she said. “You don’t have to drive out of the city to find one.”

Transition Guelph, she added, is helping to foster a culture of urban food production. Sugar in the City drew hundreds into John McCrae Public’s sugar bush, where together they celebrated the tradition of maple syrup making, she said. What could be better.