The air was cold, the wind made it seem even colder. People were shivering but this did not stop them from coming out to Westfield Heritage Village in Rockton.
On March 5 people gathered at the village for the seasonal Maple Syrup Festival. The festival exposes visitors to one of Canada’s most time-honoured traditions, the process of creating maple syrup, using methods from the 1800s and modern-day techniques.
The first Sunday of March was the kick-off day for the event this year. However, the festival is not new.
“The event has actually been going on for many years, it’s continued because it’s a really popular event,” Lisa Hunter, the program coordinator, said. “It’s a great way for people to get outside in the springtime, and come to Westfield and learn a little bit about how maple syrup was made.”
Sandra Lindsay, a worker at the festival who demonstrated the process of making maple syrup said: “All the farmers from one particular area would set up a sugar shack in the middle of the sugar bush, and they would come with their sap and put it into our biggest kettle. The sap that comes from a tree is about 95 per cent water, the rest of it is sugar so you’re boiling the water off the sap. As you do that you go from this vast quantity of liquid down to a smaller quantity and then you want to move it into a smaller pot so you can watch it.”
Despite being such an old tradition, the operation of making maple syrup has come a long way. One of the lessons taught at the festival was how changes in technology have made the process a lot easier and less time-consuming.
“The early settlers and the Indigenous people in the early 1800s were using copper pots to boil down the sap into syrup, and even with sizable pots that’s a very labour-intensive process,” Hunter said. “Our modern evaporators show how much easier it is when you have a specialized piece of equipment, so really it’s about technology making it easier, but you still essentially have to do the same thing which is remove most of the water from the sap.”
In addition to celebrating the art of maple syrup, Westfield had many other events such as visiting the sugar shack and other historical buildings, horse-drawn wagon rides and maple-themed games. Also, a log sawing activity has recently been introduced within the last couple of years and is a big hit according to workers. It allows visitors to slice a piece of wood from a log and bring it to the blacksmith shop to apply the Westfield “W”.
The village is set up with more than 35 historical buildings in order to help visitors appreciate early Canadian culture and traditions. In addition to special events going on, visitors can watch demonstrations from parts of Canada’s history and go on tours around the property.
“It’s a great place to come and spend time with family and friends, we offer a lot of different things,” Hunter said. “Things like our ice cream carnival, Christmas event and even quiet summer Sundays, there’s a lot to see here and every visit is going to be different.”
Sarah Johnson was one of many who attended the festival this year to learn about making maple syrup. “I came out because I wanted to bring my kids,” Johnson said. “The kids got to learn about how the maple syrup was made and how much maple syrup you can get out of each tree.”
Although the festival is focused on the syrup, it is a way to explain a broader social history too.
“When you’re learning about making syrup you’re learning about technology, transportation at different times and how labour-intensive tasks required people to work together,” Hunter said.
Westfield Village is a place that takes its visitors back in time. It is open Sundays from April to October with special events from March to April. According to Hunter, the location of the property is one of the main reasons Westfield is so engaging.
“One of the nicest things about coming to Westfield is that you can step outside the urban for a while,” Hunter said. “When you’re at Westfield it’s a pretty special place because we are situated where there’s not a lot of city noise happening, so you really feel like you’ve taken yourself back to another time and place.”
The Maple Syrup Festival runs every Sunday in March from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as March 15 and 16.