Hubbert’s Maple Products of Sundridge is having a record season, celebrating 70 years of syrup production at their farm with their largest crop yet.
Bill, his wife Lori and their family represent the fifth and sixth generation of Hubberts making syrup in Canada as they run a 930 acre farm with 18,000 taps. This year marks the 70th anniversary of their family producing maple syrup in Sundridge and their record-breaking harvest coincides with the week that Bill’s father would have celebrated his 100th birthday. Ideal conditions of abundant rain and significant snow melt have provided perfect moisture conditions for continuous sap flow. Bill expects a crop that’s a 150 per cent of an average crop and 25 per cent beyond anything he’s ever experienced by the end of the harvest.
“You really don’t know that it’s going to be a good year until you really almost have it,” Bill said. “Three or four days ago, we had exceeded anything we had produced in terms of us keeping records and then it looked like we still had a few good days, so that’s when we knew this is special.”
While the farm has expanded since the days of his father Harold, Bill said it reminds him of a harvest his father had back in the fifties. His father made 720 gallons of maple syrup from 2,100 buckets of sap and when Bill did the math, it amounted to 1.55 litres per tap hole. An average to good season for Parry-Sound Muskoka is about a litre per tap, he said.
“We’re making syrup today and I expect tomorrow we should hit 1.55, which that’s a special number just because of my father sharing that with us and to happen the same week that we’re celebrating his hundredth birthday makes it pretty sweet,” Bill said.
In honour of his father, who passed away in 2008, Bill and his family opened a 21-year-old bottle of maple syrup that won the family their first World Championship at the 1998 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.
“What makes it so unique and special is because I can remember every little detail of when that was made,” Bill said. “Sometimes when you enter maple syrup in a competition, you’ll look at the various ones you have made and so on and decide, ‘Okay, well I think I’ll send that one.’ In this case, we knew the day that it was made that it was the best maple syrup this farm had ever produced.”
The syrup came from another year with ideal conditions back in 1998. The sap flowed hard for the whole day from nine o’clock in the morning until about seven o’clock when Bill’s father, a 78-year-old man with a heart condition, said he’d be going out to make sure they got all of the sap. The temperature was about to drop, perfect for the sap, so with along with his parka, Harold went out to the pump house a kilometre away in the bush to make sure the pump didn’t malfunction.
Bill kept an eye on the edge of the bush for Harold to come out, but it wasn’t until 10:30 that he finally emerged. He didn’t go to the sugar house and he didn’t park the snowmobile in the garage. He simply drove it to the front door of the house, walked in and went to bed. The next morning, Bill pulled a bottle of syrup down from their shelf and tried it with his father, who had his own special way of tasting syrup.
“He poured himself a quarter of a soup bowl full of syrup and starting eating it with a spoon,” Bill said, “and declared that it was the best maple syrup that ever been made on the farm.”
The family opened a bottle of that very syrup on April 25 to celebrate what would have been Harold’s 100th birthday. They shut the evaporator down at four and went for a group supper in the kitchen followed by a tasting of the syrup. Bill said it was just as good as the day it was made.
While the financial end of having a good harvest is great, Bill said, the knowledge that he’s passing on a family passion means so much more. One of Bill’s three daughters works on the farm with them. In fact, she worked at the same pump station as the one her grandfather used on his hundredth birthday. To hear his dad’s voice in his head and look over to see his daughter doing the same work is an amazing thing for Bill.
“It [means being] able to carry on his legacy and pass it on as something that’s thriving and something that someone would want to do into the future,” Bill said. “It’s a big thing to see it moving generation to generation.”
Visit Hubbert’s Maple Products at the Muskoka Maple Festival in Huntsville on April 27.