Pure unadulterated sweet sticky maple syrup in a sugar shack, it doesn’t get more Canadian than this. And seeing the price it fetches on the world market these days many insiders consider the naturally made product as the new liquid gold. At last count, a barrel can obtain $1,800 compared to $57 on average for a crude oil barrel. Quebec’s sugar shacks are as Canadian as poutine, ice hockey or Celine Dion.
Where are the best sugar shacks?
Simply take a road trip and visit one of these sugar shacks in Canada’s largest maple syrup producing province of Quebec to see for yourself. The province’s maple syrup watchdog, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, boasts over 7,000 producers scattered across Quebec.
To boot, a precious few cabanes a sucre (sugar shacks) are even older than Canada.
As blankets of snow cover the picturesque countryside across this French-speaking province (English is really heard in the bigger hubs like Montreal and Quebec City), sugar shacks are aiming their sights on milder days when the life cycle of the sugar maple tree resumes and the sap starts flowing.
Typically the prime time in these parts is March through April but with the frigid cold blast this winter it’s anyone’s guess on the start of the harvest season.
Yes, Mother Nature rules the sap flow. But in the meanwhile, we can all prepare to smack our lips together on the upcoming sweet syrup that’ll hopefully soon flow.
Still, you’ll find some sugar shacks are open year-round as many establishments stage old-timey shows celebrating the world of syrup.
Here’s where to enjoy.
1- Cabane a sucre Montreal
The Morgan Arboretum, Montreal
One of the last bastions of maple groves on the island of Montreal, this 245-hectare forest reserve which is part of McGill University offers a two-hour guided tour with a detour to the sugar shack.
Whisk into the grove via a lively sleigh ride and head to the sugar shack to learn the traditions behind tapping the sap.
You can sample taffy on snow along with other fare at Morgan Arboretum in Montreal.
2- The sugar shack of sugar shacks
Sucrerie de la Montagne, Montreal area
Call it a calling. Former meeting planner Pierre Faucher decided to try his hand at building an attraction, planning events and enticing the masses.
He switched gears and left the corporate rat race. He purchased land near his hometown and laboured for 12 years building wooden framed structures.
“I built it with my own hands,” he says humbly.
Sucrerie de la Montagne has been attracting crowds for over 30 years.
It’s the Sugar Shack of sugar shacks and has been lauded by publications like The New York Times and National Geographic Traveler. Faucher makes around 400 gallons of the sweet sticky stuff annually.
His newest product is a maple syrup-infused cologne, which has the potential to compete with French perfumeries. And why not? The idea occurred after an accidental meeting.
While visiting his establishment, a perfume maker from the French Riviera just happened to overhear Faucher describe the technique behind maple syrup production. This technique involves lots of aromatic vapour seeping into the air.
A eureka moment occurred and Faucher went to Grasse in France to check out the perfume factory.
He found a new partner and if this latest venture is anything like his beloved sugar shack, these petites bouteilles could be another crowd pleaser.
Faucher plans to donate proceeds from the sales toward Alzheimer’s research.
3- Historic Quebec City sugar shack
Érablière le Chemin du Roy, Quebec City Area
In the heart of an ancient maple grove about 20 minutes’ drive west from Quebec City you have arrived at the fabled King’s Road country “Chemin du Roy” which holds its own lore and distinction.
The historic road on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River was once considered the longest road in existence when completed in 1787 (280 km).
Today curious maple syrup foragers who travel this country road can stop at the Erabliere le Chemin du Roy for a real treat.
During sugar maple production season you can watch the age-old technique. However, off-season also has its perks.
The old cabane à sucre is open year-round for lunches and short 20-minute guided tours.
The menu is traditional rib-sticking fare smothered in maple syrup.
Enjoy a steamy bowl of French Canadian pea soup, homemade bread and try the traditional Québécois meat pie drizzled with more maple syrup, and try the maple smoked ham and pancakes with maple syrup among other tasty delights.
Don’t let the petite size of the 300-year-old sugar grove fool you either.
This boutique place has 1,300 tappings and come maple syrup season there’s a sweet smell in the air.
4- An old fashion Cabane à sucre
Kinadapt, Lanaudiere region
In the deep white north far from the streets of Montreal in the region of Lanaudière there’s a guy who’s combined his love of the outdoors and maple syrup in an out-of-the-box concept, the old-fashioned way.
Maple syrup foragers travel by sled dog with the help of draught horses for this traditional maple syrup production outing created by kinesiologist Peter Boutin of Kinadapt.
Folks head into the pretty snowscape deep into the sugar maple groves and when the guides feel the setting is right it’s time to step off the dog sled and resume the jaunt via snowshoes.
Amid a picturesque wintery scene, it’s time for the traditional maple sap collection led by your trusty guide.
This hands-on outing helps you identify and tap the maples as you learn the ins and outs of maple syrup production. In between the sap-to-syrup steps expect samplings.
The finale happens at the end of a full day when you head back for a traditional sugar shack meal.
Travelling with a pack of sociable, tail-wagging Siberian and Alaskan huskies definitely helps create a memorable ambiance.
5- Canadian maple syrup heaven
Sucrerie Jean-Louis Massicotte et filles, Mauricie region
The family-owned Sucrerie Jean-Louis Massicotte et filles has been in the sugar shack business since 1710. Picture 10 generations incorporating traditional maple syrup methods used by their ancestors.
The current proprietors Gaétan Massicotte and Monique and their staff and volunteers dutifully collect the maple sap by horse-drawn carts or snowshoes and pour the gold nectar into aged oak barrels.
Arrive at this historic site with its quaint Quebecois red and white cabin in the woods and discover the early traditions which incidentally involves the renowned Quebecois hardy lunch prepared on a wood stove.
The setting is purely authentic, no electricity and guests are encouraged to bring along their own musical instruments. Don’t have any? Don’t worry. There’s always the fun, quirky jigs you can master with a pair of musical spoons.
The family is crossing the fingers on this year’s yield and are anticipating opening its doors on March 15, the old Ides of March.
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