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Not too long ago, the idea was hatched by Harold Macy, Gary Backlund, Lawrence Lampson, Louie Lapi, Jay Rastogi and Bram Lucieer to start a West Coast maple sap and syrup industry. This effort was brought together through the Master Woodland Manager component of the British Columbia Small Woodlands Program. The Master Woodland Manager program has created an incredibly positive and beneficial influence for those that manage small woodlands. Those that benefited by direct training passed that knowledge o­n to many other small woodland managers.

With the initiation of a few information sessions o­n maple tapping, the number of Sapsuckers started to increase. We had a few members with some Eastern sugaring experience, but quickly learned that a different tree in a different climate requires many things to be done differently. Although much sugaring research has been done back East, a lot of it is not transferable to bigleaf maple tapping. Fortunately the AgroForestry Initiative arrived with perfect timing to help with much needed demonstration projects and research.

Our original goal was to have product for sale in local stores, but demand still outweighs supply. Producers can reap better profits by direct sales from farmgate and farmer market sales, so the stores will have to wait.

One measure of success we are proud of is that our local maple tapping was more than a blip o­n Canadas last census. It caused enough of a stir in Ottawa that we received a phone call from Statistics Canada wanting to know the extent of this somewhat new Vancouver Island industry.

Bigleaf maple sap tap. Photo courtesy of Gary Backlund.

Having 1400 people paying to get into our first maple syrup festival erased any doubt that this seed has grown into a large tree and much credit should be given to both the Master Woodland Manager Program and the AgroForestry Initiative.

Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival Notes

For a few years weve been more talk than action when it came to putting o­n a bigleaf maple syrup festival. Thanks to Aimee Greenaway of the BC Forest Discovery Centre latching o­nto a passing comment by Katherine Backlund, we had our first Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival o­n February 2, 2008 and it was a resoundingly sweet success.

Volunteer working the evaporator at the Bigleaf Maple Festival o­n February 2, 2008. Photo courtesy of Gary Backlund.

The Forest Discovery Centre is an ideal venue for this type of event with good parking, easy access, a highly visible location, large grounds, suitable buildings, and maple trees in their forest. As the focus of the Forest Discover Centre and the theme of the festival is forest related education, the festival fits the Discovery Centres mandate well. All in all, a great match.

We knew that there would be a few bumps and glitches with the event, so we decide to start small and keep things basic for the first of what is expected to be an annual event. In our planning we projected 200 people attending, but hoped for and prepared for up to 500 people.

Past experience for events at the Forest Discovery Centre has shown a direct relationship between weather and attendance. o­n the morning of our event, it was lightly snowing and the forecast was that it would rain off and o­nnot a good sign.

At opening time, we were more than mildly surprised to see a long line of people waiting to get in. Throughout the day 1400 paying attendees went through this line. This was the largest o­ne-day paying event that the Centre has heldwhich is remarkable considering the weather!

As we had prepared for up to 500, this created some management problems, but thanks to the many Sapsucker Ambassadors o­n hand, the public seemed to be happy with the event even if lines were long and parking was difficult.

Thank goodness for the sponsors; their generosity went a very long way. They included Bees 'n Glass, Buckerfields, Dominion & Grimm Inc., Harbour Living Magazine, Bad Dog Grr-aphics, and Greg Eyre of CFB Esquimalt for building and donating the evaporator pan. We also have to recognize and thank all those who helped out: Dolly Sandquist and Ulrike Porat, who had the sticky job of doling out samples, Paul Minvielle for his comical and entertaining tapping demonstrations, Jay Rastogi and Katherine Backlund for their PowerPoint presentations, Katherine Backlund for her highway signs and Teesh Backlund for the 2000 spoons. Thanks to Lawrence Lampson for overseeing the evaporator, demonstrating his finishing equipment, and for helping to organize the syrup contests, and to Norm Bumstead and Lon Gaspardone for bringing their mini-evaporators. Our apologies and thanks to all of you who didnt get mentioned, but did so much to make the event a success.

Very special thanks go out to the people of the BC Forest Discovery Centre. Aimee for her vision, hard work, cheerfulness and choice of Ed Peekeekoot for musical entertainment, Ron Cooke who built the evaporator firebox and supplied the firewood, and then missed the entire event by driving the Discovery Centre train almost non-stop for six hours; Vicki for agreeing to commit the sometimes cash strapped resources of the Discovery Centre to an untried event and for all she did in the background to make this work. A big thank you to the many others who helped with admissions, parking, food and the massive job of getting the centre ready beforehand and cleaning up after.

By George W. Powell, PhD, PAg Facilitator, British Columbia Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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