You know spring is in the air when the sap starts running and maple syrup starts pouring. As Canadian as the maple leaf – well, syrup does come from maple trees – hitting the sugar bush for a sleigh-drawn ride, a hearty helping of pancakes and a dollop of maple taffy is a rite of passage as we shake off winter’s cold and get ready for the landscape to reawaken.
Here are five sugar bushes in the area with tasty treats that hit the sweet spot.
If you want the sugar shack experience without leaving the city, Vanier boasts what’s billed as North America’s only urban sugar bush at Richelieu Park. Called Vanier Museopark, the museum and sugar bush celebrate the area’s francophone heritage. Visit between March 30 and April 4 to take in the Sugar Festival, which includes a lumberjack competition, face-painters, farm animals, carnival rides, a craft fair and a culinary competition.
When: The sugar shack is open weekends in March and April from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; otherwise by reservation
Where: 300 Pères-Blancs Ave., Vanier
What: Pancakes and more, walking trails, sleigh rides (during the festival)
Prices: From $3 for maple taffy to $20.50 for a full meal
The brothers three
Fulton’s Pancake House & Sugar Bush is a popular maple syrup destination with a long history. Legend has it that the first of the family to settle in the area – three Fulton brothers who emigrated from Scotland in the 1840s – learned the art of maple syrup making from First Nations people, as well as other early settlers. The sugar-making tradition continues today, with the fifth generation involved in the family business.
When: This year’s Winter Magic & Maple Harvest runs daily from Feb. 18 to Apr. 23. The pancake house and shop are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: 399 Sugar Bush Rd., Pakenham
What: Tour the bush and sugar camp to learn how syrup was and is made; hike or snowshoe the trails (adult rentals available); and try the toboggan hill for free. On weekends, holidays and March Break, other activities such as horse-drawn sleigh/wagon rides, face painting and maple treats are also available for $10 or less.
Prices: At the pancake house, from $1.95 for a cookie or muffin to $14.50 for a gluten-free waffle meal. Note that the restaurant takes cash only. (There is an ATM on site.)
The French (Canadian) connection
Just 40 minutes from downtown Ottawa, tradition is key at Le Domaine de l’Ange Gardien. Typical of many sugar bushes, there are activities for the kids, but a key feature here are the links to the past, like the antique-filled shack and traditional evaporator, which is used to boil the sap.
When: The sugar shack is open as of Feb. 25 (reservations are required for meals; days and times vary). Tubing is available, weather permitting, weekends and during Quebec and Ontario March Breaks. Check the site for details.
Where: 1031 Pierre-Laporte St., L’Ange-Gardien, Quebec
What: Enjoy an all-you-can-eat French-Canadian meal while entertainment is provided. Activities include a playground, walking/skiing/snowshoeing trails and – weather permitting and for a price – sleigh rides and snow tubing.
Prices: Meals range from $6.50 for children 5 and under to $19.75 for those 12 and over (Saturday evenings there is a premium); tubing is $10-$12; sleigh rides are $3.50-$4.50.
South of the city core at another family farm with deep roots is Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm, where the syrup making has been done since the 1850s. Geared towards families, the sugar bush includes free activities as well as the typical sleigh rides and pancake brunch.
When: Weekends from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 25 to Apr. 16, plus March Break from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (brunch available starting at 8:30 a.m.)
Where: 2452 Yorks Corners Rd., Edwards
What: Enjoy sleigh rides, visit the sugar shack, and watch the sap-to-syrup process unfold while enjoying taffy on the snow and a pancake brunch. There’s also a petting farm and children’s play area.
Prices: All-you-can-eat brunch ranges from $7.75 for toddlers to $18 for adults; taffy is $2.50; sleigh rides are $4.75
Info: stanleysfarm.com or 613-821-2751
Celebrating spring’s arrival begins in February at Proulx Maple & Berry Farm in Cumberland, because Feb. 26 is when the farm’s 2017 sugar season begins. The Proulx family has been running the farm and producing maple syrup since 1920. Take a maple tour, stay for brunch, visit the farm and enjoy its activities.
When: Feb. 26 to Apr. 17 – weekends 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with no reservations; weekdays by reservation only except during March Break
Where: 1865 O'Toole Rd., Cumberland
What: All-you-can-eat brunch, horse-drawn hay rides, tours and more
Prices: Farm admission/tour/hay ride is $5 (free for children under 3); brunch ranges from $10.40 to $23 depending on age