There were a few obvious signs spring had returned to Ottawa — the snow was melting, birds were singing, and the maple sugar bushes were open for business.My wife and I decided to introduce our son into the sweet world of pancakes and maple syrup and we chose Lanark County – full of extraordinary sugar bush operations – as the place of initiation.
The county has developed the marketing slogan as being the Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario. Judging from a map showing maple syrup producers in the county, it is a well-earned title. One benefit of visiting this area is that you pass through the small village of Pakenham. This is home to the only five-arch stone bridge in North America. We stopped for a few scenic photos of the bridge and the fast-moving Mississippi River. It was easy to imagine a time when the bridge served horses and buggies rather than cars and trucks.
Upon entering Pakenham, we discovered the general store. The Pakenham General Store was built in 1840 and is still a functioning, multi-purpose business. Our son David was enchanted by the colourful array of candies and a model train that did a circuit inside the store. My wife and I were transfixed by the smell of fresh bread. It was difficult to leave but there were a stack of pancakes calling our name.
Our choice was Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush. The parking lot was packed with vehicles and there was a line-up for the pancake restaurant. In fairness, we came right at the height of the lunch hour rush and the staff was very good at finding parking for everyone. Keeping a two-year-old occupied in a lineup is not an easy task so we decided to explore the other activities.
David’s first taste of maple syrup was a small bite of maple taffy. The taffy is made by pouring maplesyrup on snow and then rolling the freezing syrup on to a popsicle stick. The results are delicious. We moved on to the sugar camp where maple sap was being transformed into maple syrup. I met Scott Deugo, who is responsible for making the maple syrup. Scott is a fifth generation member of the family business. “Our family has been here since 1840, so that is before Confederation,” explains Scott. “It is humbling to be a part of something that is over 160 years old.I remember working the bush with my father and now I am doing that with my children.”
While we were chatting, David kept busy playing in the snow. One great thing about the County’s maple syrup bushes is that many of them have activities to entertain children. They offer face painting, sleigh rides and a well-used play structure. David was mesmerized by the huge horses pulling the sleigh. He was thrilled to hop on the wagon and go for a ride through the forest. A trip on the sleigh had worked up an appetite for everyone in our family. The lineup for pancakes had dwindled to almost nothing. We ordered two heaping plates of pancakes with sausages on the side. Of course, the pancakes and sausages were drowned in maple syrup. We offered David a bite of pancakes and maple syrup. By the end of the meal, we could have easily ordered another plate of pancakes and syrup for our son. His face and hands were covered in maple syrup, which he eagerly cleaned off with his tongue. During our meal, a young guitarist played songs that fit in with the ambiance of the restaurant. Customers joined in rousing renditions of Four Strong Winds and the Log Driver’s Waltz. There was a genuine sense of community as everyone from grandmothers to teens participated in a singalong. I guess good-tasting pancakes positively reduce inhibitions!
After finishing our pancakes, we headed outside to see a demonstration of First Nations dancing. Fulton’s
honours the fact that it was the First Nations people who first practiced collecting sap and making syrup. Every year, the sugar bush invites the group, Aboriginal Experiences, to perform traditional First Nations’ dances and share the history of making maplen syrup from a First Nations perspective. Aboriginal Experiences did a wonderful job dancing and including everyone in their culture. The presentation ended
with spectators being invited to dance with the performers. Our son was too shy to join in but did enjoy the bright costumes and energetic music. A visit to any sugar bush (see sidebar story below) is much more than just about eating pancakes and having a good meal. The day is made by the multitude of additional family activities that take place. The highlight of the day for our son was the sleigh ride. For your child, it may be the face-painting activity or the First Nations dancing. In short, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
There are a few tips that can make your trip to a pancake house in spring more pleasurable. If possible, visit outside the lunch hour rush. We arrived right at lunchtime and you can expect a wait for the restaurant. There are numerous other activities so it is possible to eat at a less busy time. It is a good idea to bring a packet of wipes as pancakes, maple syrup and a toddler can make for a sticky situation.
This was the first time we had ever been to a sugar bush as a family but it is a tradition we are sure to repeat
Places to Visit:
Drummond’s Sugar Bush
3717 County Rd. 21, Spencerville ON
Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush
#291, 6th Concession Road, Pakenham
Hunter’s Maple Products and Pancake House
5031 Rock Road, Spencerville
Proulx Sugarbush and Berry Farm
1865 chemin O’Toole Road, Cumberland
613 833-2417 or 613 833-9009
Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm
2452 Yorks Corners Road, Edwards
Wheelers Maple Products
1001 Highland Line, McDonalds Corners
Making the Most of Your Trip
We are fortunate to have many places to sample maple syrup and pancakes close to Ottawa. A great website to consult is www.ontariomaple.com. It offers everything from the closest maple sugar bush to recipes that rely on maple syrup.
For more information on Lanark County visit www.lanarkcountytourism.ca.