Maple Syrup: A Pioneer Necessity 

Maple Syrup: A Pioneer Necessity and a trading commodity for indigenous peoples is now a Sunday morning breakfast treat with pancakes!

It's that time of year again. The nights are cold and clear. The sky shines brightly under a canopy of bright stars. During the day, the sun gleams on the snow-covered fields and forests creating a glare upon the eyes befitting the sunniest July afternoon. 

Its Maple Syrup Time! 

The trees, barren of their summer foliage, stand in the snow linked to one another by seemingly endless lengths of coloured tubing offering up the sweet sign of the onset of spring and warmer weather. Its maple syrup time! 

Today, we enjoy maple syrup as a treat on our Sunday morning pancakes. 

It is not a necessity to our existence — it's a treat we all enjoy. 

However, to the early inhabitants of this region, maple syrup was a necessity of life as important to the diet as fish, wild game and the other staples of existence. 

Before European settlement occurred in North America, the indigenous people were harvesting maple sugar. 

It was the women who had the responsibility of reaping the crop of maple sap each year. They would form work parties and move into the forests and set up camp. Each member of. the group had their own specific task to perform. Some prepared the troughs that would hold the sap, others gathered firewood for the fires that would be necessary to process the syrup, and another group tapped the trees. 

The whole project was directed by one person, usually an older woman, who worked her way through the various tasks learning the entire process. Once the sap had been collected, it was heated, stirred, and once it had cooled and settled, it was cut and stored in birch baskets called "mococks" or "mokuks". Each season, one of these work parties would harvest as much as 300 pounds of maple sugar. 

Maple Syrup Festivals

In the 1990s, maple sugar festivals are popular attractions. People travel far and wide to participate, riding horse-drawn sleighs through the forests, watching the sap become syrup and enjoying sticky maple taffy. But most of all, visitors to these maple sugar festivals come for the pancakes and syrup. 

The native peoples also enjoyed festivities surrounding the running of the maple sap; When the work party returned from the forests with their bounty, they took on a carnival atmosphere. 

The early explorers and fur traders were the first Europeans to discover the attributes of maple sugar. It quickly became a popular and important part of their diet. In fact, Alexander Henry, an early British trader, wrote that "each man consumed a pound a day, desired no other food, and was visibly nourished by it". 

The European settlement of North America created a new demand for maple sugar. 

It was expensive to import all the sugar necessary to meet the needs of the new communities and the natives found yet another of their resources a hot commodity amongst their new neighbours. Instead of harvesting only enough maple sugar for their own needs, many native communities began exporting maple sugar to the towns and villages. 

One early Bruce county resident recalled the arrival each spring of natives from Manitoulin Island with their mackinaws laden with mococks. Each mocock contained 20 to 30 pounds of sugar which were sent to Montreal where it was refined into commercial brown sugar. 

Maple sugar provided the sweet trimmings for many pioneer tables. However, another use was developed for this sweet crop. Some enterprising and innovative pioneers, or natives, discovered that by adding the essence of spruce or ginger, one could make maple sugar beer! 

Today, we do not rely upon maple sugar to meet the daily needs of sugar in our homes. Instead, it is a luxury, we enjoy on our pancakes on Sunday mornings. 

But maple syrup season also has another important aspect. It means that spring and warmer weather is right around the corner!

A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on February 26, 1999.

History Pages

12-year-old Walks to Owen Sound in 1851 from the journal of a teenage boy's experience travelling with his brother in the untamed Upper Canadian wilderness.

1st Grey County Building in 1852 was only built after many hurdles were overcame.

Land Auction in Amabel Township provided the opportunity for settlers to purchase land and begin a new life in Bruce County in the 1850s.

Georgian Bay's 1st pioneer settler arrived on the western shoreline long before any other settler reached the area.

An Unlikely Hero From Grey County (Part 1) found his way from the farming community of Flesherton to missionary work in the Ottawa Valley, and beyond.

An Unlikely Hero Vs. The KKK (Part 2) Our hero from Grey County took his missionary zeal south of the border and ultimately crossed paths with the infamous KKK!

Barn Raising: A Pioneer Economic and Social Necessity as it provided settlers with an opportunity not only to build a barn, but also build a community.

"Barring Out": A Pioneer School Tradition was a custom which the settlers brought to the new world from England, or Scotland.

Baseball History in Southwestern Ontario is rich, and surprisingly longer than one might expect, actually setting historical precedents!

British Peerage a Source for Township Names. It is interesting to check the origin of the names bestowed on pioneer places such as towns, townships and counties.

Census Takers in 1891 Canada faced difficult obstacles to gather the necessary information but the results were revealing then, and today.

Ceylon Ontario: How it Got its Name: It is always interesting how a community got its name, but I doubt any place received its name from a more unique source!

Chatsworth Ontario: First Settlers took advantage of fulfilling the needs of pioneer travellers and built a thriving community in the Upper Canadian wilderness.

Chesley Ontario Welcomes the Krug Brothers who were not only successful, but made significant contributions to the social fabric of their adopted home town.

Krug Impact on Chesley Ontario was immense not only in terms of the community's social fabric but with regards to community's economic growth.

Clearing Trees a Daunting Task for Settlers as they worked to fulfill their obligations for their land grant.

Billy Crawford: Pioneering Spirit Personified. If you take the time to consider the people you have met during your life you too may know or have known, someone with pioneering spirit just like Billy Crawford.

Bruce Road 3: A Colonization Road  linked prospective settlers to undeveloped Crown Lands and a new life.

Dornoch: or is it Smithville? Originally it was Smithville, then it became Dornoch. But, surprise it is still, in reality Smithville!

First Pioneer in Durham: Archibald Hunter established his family, and a hotel, in what would become the centre of the town of Durham.

Durham Ontario Influenced by the Saugeen River. This river provided a means to create new industries, but especially in the spring it can also pose a menace to the community.

Frozen Rivers & Lakes can be Hazardous: Icy waterways offer many benefits such as ice fishing, but beware weak, or thin ice is not easily detected and can spell disaster.

Grey County Bylaws to the 1890s reveal a lot about the financing of local government, especially education in the early days of the region.

John Muir, the legendary naturalist, who promoted the idea of protected nature spaces, spent time in Ontario and I went to help find evidence of his stay in the Owen Sound area.

The Glorious Twelfth: A Tradition from Across the Pond which served to both unite and divide pioneer communities.

A Heroic Woman From Grey County who made great changes as a doctor in China in the 1890s and early 1900s.

Jesse James: In Grey County? An interesting question. Did the notorious gangster hide out in Proton Township? We will never know. But it is fun to speculate!

Kilsyth's Train Engine was one for the history books. It brought an evening of joy followed by disappointing news soon after.

Kincardine Ontario's First Settlers using a bit of savvy and some luck created a future form themselves and their families on the Lake Huron shoreline.

The Knight's of Meaford have long history in that Grey County community. Their business forged by early settlers employed many locals and supported the economy.

Leith: Tom Thomson's Birthplace is part of the rich heritage of this community located on the east shore of the bay north of Owen Sound.

The Leith Golf Course has provided many families with great memories. The history of this golf course starts, and ends, with the generosity of one family.

Agnes Macphail was a political trailblazer in a part of Ontario that one could hardly expect such radical action for the era in a rural region.

Markdale Ontario: The Beginning: originally known as Glenelg East, but the coming of the railway and the name of owner of the land for the station led to a change of identity.

Maple Syrup: A Pioneer Necessity and a trading commodity for indigenous peoples is now a Sunday morning breakfast treat with pancakes!

Meaford Ontario, first called Peggy's Landing located on the shores of Georgian Bay has a rich history.

Meaford vs Purdytown. Conflict over the name of a new community was not unusual in early Grey County but electing a school trustee was the "hot button" issue in this rivalry.

Mildmay Ontario overcame competition from other communities to claim its spot in Carrick Township on an important settlement route to the Lake Huron shoreline.

Paris Ontario: Who Knew this community had such a unique origin and how the local citizens used that history to protect the environment of their region?

Pioneer Doctor: Dr. James Smith, a local boy who became a doctor and served his community for his entire life was a testament to Grey County community spirit.

Pioneer Healthcare in Grey and Bruce counties was not administered by doctors, nurses, or pharmacists, no it was the responsibility of the women of the community.

Pioneer ingenuity created many labour-saving devices and methods and quite often helped to create a sense of community.

Pioneer Christmas: A Family Tradition as told to me by may grandparents who experienced Christmas as children in the 1880s and 1890s.

Pioneer Settlement in Arran Township was encouraged through the offer of inexpensive land for sale, but the offer of free land was another enticement offered elsewhere.

Pioneer Settlement Plans for Grey County began almost two decades before the rest of Grey County was available for settlement.

Pioneer Diaries Provide Interesting Information about many topics, but sometimes information about the weather can be quite surprising!

Pioneer Teachers in Grey and Bruce Counties had a long and arduous task, not to mentions strict and confining job requirements for very little salary.

Plowing Match in Grey County in 1933 the first International Plowing Match held in Grey and Bruce counties and it's success led to more such events in Grey.

Port Elgin Ontario Started with a Storm. A ship forced to seek refuge from Lake Huron's stormy wrath signalled to one man the idea of starting a new community.

Settling Osprey Township: Parts of Osprey were considered too rugged to settle, but today they are prime real estate because of the great view!

Southampton Ontario Suffered a Major Fire in 1886: The havoc was created by a furious high wind storm that spread the flames over much of the town.

Swamp College: Proton Township: this colourfully named institution of education in Grey County has provided many stories to the heritage of the region.

Sydenham Township's First Council undertook the often difficult task of creating a new municipal infrastructure.

Tara Ontario mill was founded in 1851 by John and James Tobey. In later years, under different ownership, the Tara mill would be the site of important innovations. 

"Thank You to a Veteran" - should be something everyone of us should think, and especially say, every day!

The Impact of Snow is not what is Used to be! As snow removal equipment has improved the impact of snow on our lives has reduced significantly from previous eras.

Unique Characters: Nathaniel Herriman lived in Grey County and owned an inn to provide food and and accommodation to early travellers. Each day he performed a unique practice.

Unique Maps: Quilts Guided the Underground Railroad to enable runaway slaves to escape to Canada and freedom from the shackles that enslaved them.

Walkerton Ontario: The Beginning of this Bruce County town is the result of the drive and determination of one man, Joseph Walker.

From Lochnaw to Manitoulin - A Review this book details through a soldier's diary a trip from Penetanguishene to Manitoulin Island in 1839.

History Pages introduces the readers to interesting people, places, and events that I have researched and written about in my writing career that spans more than three decades.

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