Quebec Sugar Shack: Bois de Coulonge

Quebec Sugar Shack: Bois de Coulonge

This article first appeared in the print edition of Life in Québec Magazine

You can read the magazine in full here:

Life in Québec Magazine – March to June 2013

Article by Sarah Williams
Photos by Guy Langevin

It’s an important cultural icon in Quebec which is not completely foreign to me; growing up in Ontario, however, we referred to it as the “sugar shack” and not the “cabane à sucre”.  Besides the language difference though, there are a lot of similarities between the sugar shack of Ontario and the cabane à sucre of Quebec.  Typically, they are small, rustic cabins located in a forest composed primarily of sugar maples. The traditional method for harvesting the “eau d’érable”, or raw sap, from these trees is also essentially the same: spigots made of wood or metal are hammered into the tree, and then buckets are hung from these “taps” to catch the dripping sap. It used to be that the sap was collected by a horse drawn sleigh and reservoir, and then brought back to the shack to be boiled down to syrup.

cabane_01_Guy_LangevinThese days, however, the whole process has been modernized for more efficiency.  Now, many producers are equipped with a network of plastic hoses that collect the sap so that it drips directly to the evaporating house; this and snowmobiles have rendered the horse and sleigh obsolete. The production of maple syrup has become a big business, especially in Quebec, a fact made infinitely clear by the kerfuffle that followed the “great syrup heist of 2012”.

According to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, this province is responsible for 70-80% of the world’s maple syrup production, and is also home to the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve. In 2012, the public became aware of just how large a stockpile the strategic reserve holds, when it was reported that thieves had absconded with around 10 million pounds of “liquid gold” from a warehouse in St-Louis-de-Blandford; a cache representing a market value of 30 million dollars. Suddenly there was talk of a maple syrup shortage, and fear that prices would sky rocket. I know I considered stocking up on a few extra cans, just in case the culprits were never found. Yes, indeed: big business!

cabane_07_Guy_LangevinHowever, it’s not merely for economic reasons that the production of maple syrup holds such an important place in the Quebecois psyche. There are cultural reasons as well.  We can see it represented in the folk art: a horse-drawn sleigh being pulled through the forest, a sea of metal buckets hanging on trees, and a little cabin in the woods with a plume of smoke rising from the chimney, these are all perennial images which are carved into wood, painted onto plates, and looped into tapestries by Quebecois artisans. It’s an enduring symbol of both Quebec’s past and present.

When spring approaches, many Quebecers flock to the cabane à sucre of their choice. As the concept has been exploited extensively for tourism purposes, there are plenty out there that are more commercial in nature. However, it is usually these “touristy” ones that have traditional Quebec reels playing in the background and offer up a hearty meal including a feast of eggs, sausages, crêpes and perhaps even some “oreilles de crisse”, a typical Quebecois dish made of deep-fried pork jowls; all intended to be drowned in a substantial portion of  maple syrup.

If you are a tried and true urbanite, and a trek into the woods doesn’t appeal to you, there is a way to get a taste of the cabane à sucre experience, without leaving the city limits.  In its tenth year, located in the maple forest of the Bois-de-Coulonge in Sillery, the Cabane à sucre du parc offers up an enjoyable day out and a festive atmosphere. There, you can tour a real, working sugar shack, complete with sap bubbling and steaming away in the pans, and you can get your sweet fix either by taste testing the taffy on snow, or purchasing some maple butter or syrup. This is as authentic as it gets, without being obliged to drive 20 minutes or so outside Quebec City.

As the winter is long, cold and grey here, a visit to the cabane à sucre is just the thing to help warm your spirit, and get you through the final stretch before the signs of spring start appearing.

Info :

Cabane à sucre du Parc du Bois-de-Coulonge, 1215, Grande Allée Ouest, Québec

Dates :

9th-10th March, 2013

16th-17th March 2013

23rd-24th March 2013

Hours :

10 am – 4:30 pm

Cost :

Around 5 $ per taffy tasting, parking is free.

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About the author:

Sarah Williams is a mother of three young children, and a freelance writer.

Sarah had her first experience living in Quebec while earning her bachelor’s degree in Communications at Concordia University (MTL) in the late nineties.

Hailing from Cobourg, Ontario, Sarah moved to Quebec City in January of the year 2000. For her, this city is the perfect balance of the small town feel of her hometown in Ontario and the vibrant francophone culture of Montreal.

Professionally, Sarah has worked a fair bit in the media as a copywriter and researcher; for Global Television, and for a T.V. cooking show (what’s cooking).

About Author

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