Spring is just around the corner, so it’s the sugar season! With a duration of 4 to 6 weeks, this time of the year is a a tradition firmly rooted in Quebec culture. There are approximately 430 sugar shacks in the province and many of them are open all year round. It is not surprising that it is a must-see activity for both locals and tourists! Here are 5 interesting facts related to the history of maple products and its industry.
1. A Native tradition
Well before the Europeans settled in New France, First Nations collected maple sap by cutting a tree trunk with a tomahawk. They were fixing a piece of wood in order to bring it in a bark container. Jacques Cartier was probably the first witness of this know-how. With his companions, he cut a tree that looked like a walnut tree. According to him, the maple water had the taste of a good wine. With the arrival of Catholic missionaries, testimonies have multiplied towards the end of the 17th century. Even Father Gabriel Sagard considered maple water as a reinvigorating beverage!
2. Louis XIV and the passion for sugar
Under Louis XIV’s reign, the maple sugar export in France coincides with the development of slavery and the sugar cane trade in the Caribbean. At the time, this commodity was mainly reserved for His Majesty as well as his guests. The Sun King went so far as to lock the sugar bowl, being the only one with the key. He also loved maple sugar candies that was sent to him by Agathe de Saint-Père, a Montreal manufacturer.
3. The origin of sugar shacks
At the turn of the 19th century, the operating techniques of maple water evolve. Axe incisions are no longer made on trees. The wooden bucket will give way to the metal bucket. With the equipment enhancements, the construction of shelters is necessary in order to avoid heat losses during the boiling of maple sap. This is how the first sugar shacks have emerged. Artisans could now welcome visitors.
4. Quebec’s liquid gold
Around the 1950s, the sugar shack products are sold in several supermarkets in Quebec. Maple butter is invented and marketed. Québécois families replaced maple sugar by maple syrup. Since then, it has been an integral part of Québec’s culinary culture.
5. Technology at the service of artisans
The invention of the tubing network system, consisting of plastic pipes connected to pumps, has facilitated the producers work during the 1970s. International demand for this product has grown exponentially at that moment. Ten years later, the reverse osmosis invention, a water purification system, has made maple production, a major economic activity for the province.
Maple syrup in figures
Today, Quebec maple syrup is sold to nearly 60 countries, accounting for 72% of the world’s production. Each year more than 141 million pounds of syrup is consumed worldwide and more than half a liter of maple syrup is consumed per capita in Quebec. This is the reason why we have a sweet tooth!