Untapped potential: Maple-tapping and syrup-making growing in St. John’s

Newfoundland and Labrador weather beneficial for tree-tapping hobbyists

Steve and Lisa McBride share their syrup with their goat Maple. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

Steve and Lisa McBride are working to spread the word about syrup and take advantage of an untapped resource in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The couple are in their fifth year of leading maple syrup-making workshops with Friends of Pippy Park, and have already shown about 500 people how to do it.

When the McBrides started making syrup, they were just looking for ways to cut down on food costs after moving to Newfoundland from British Columbia about 10 years ago. That’s when Steve read about making maple syrup.

“And I thought, ‘Well, do people make maple syrup here?’ And of course I found out they didn’t,” he said.

“But I decided to try it anyway with a couple maple trees in our yard, and it actually worked out really well.”

It’s unreliable, when maple syrup season starts, which is actually what works so well for hobbyists.
– Steve McBride

Steve said there’s no commercial syrup production in the province because of the weather, but that works in the favour of people looking to tap trees as a hobby.

“It’s unreliable when maple syrup season starts, which is actually what works so well for hobbyists,” he said.

“If you’re tapping in Quebec, maple syrup season lasts eight, maybe 14 days, but here in Newfoundland it can last six to eight weeks.”

The maple trees in Pippy Park yields sweet golden syrup. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

‘A bucket hanging from every tree’

And along with a favourable season, there are lots of trees to tap. Steve said over 50 per cent of trees in St. John’s are maples, with about 13 different varieties. That means potential for lots of syrup.

“We’re sitting on gallons and gallons and gallons of our own sugar, and yet we import honey, we import maple syrup,” said Steve.

“With a bucket hanging from every tree — which is kind of my mantra here — that’s something that we can really start to produce more in the province.”

But sustainability is also important for the McBrides. They use a simple, old-fashioned metal tap that takes about four per cent of the tree’s sap, leaving the rest for its leaves and branches.

Steve said if properly tapped, a tree can be used to make syrup every year and still live for over a hundred years, and just about any variety of maple can make syrup.

Maple syrup festival

And the hobby is growing. The McBrides figure that there are at least 70 families that are making syrup in the city, with several hundred trees tapped. Steve expects to see many of those hobbyists at Pippy Park’s annual maple syrup festival.

“That’s where we get together to celebrate the culture, so we have people that have made their own maple syrup, we have a little tasting competition. It’s very informal.”

Pippy Park’s Maple Syrup Festival is planned to start at noon on Sunday at the North Bank Lodge.

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