The new owners of Maple Hill Farm in Hanmer celebrated their official grand opening with a special celebration on Friday ahead of a full weekend of festivities.
The 35-acre property on which the farm sits, situated about 20 minutes from Sudbury’s downtown core, is an important local landmark that has served as a hub for social gatherings and community since the early 20th century.
Known for its maple syrup products, guided tours and tastings, and horse-drawn sleigh rides during the winter, Maple Hill held its last taffy-tasting party under the previous ownership in 2017.
After completing renovations on the property and rebranding some of Maple Hill’s specialty maple syrup products, the new owners Céline and Michel Larivière are eager to welcome the public back to the farm.
Their goal is to preserve the farm’s historical value in the community and to maintain the tradition of hosting visitors during the sugaring season.
Their Fall in Love with Maple event will take place this weekend from Sept. 25 to 26.
“This farm has been a gathering area for people in the Valley for generations – since the early 1900s,” said Michel Larivière.
“It’s more of a destination farm rather than a huge maple syrup production plant. If we’re lucky, we will get 1,000 litres of maple syrup. People like to visit us because it’s very pretty and this landmark has a lot of historical significance in the community.”
Larivière explained that Maple Hill Farm is located on what used to be the Despatie family property.
“They are considered one of the founding families in the Valley, and where they set up their original homestead was right on Dominion Drive,” he said.
“Lucien and Alice Despatie then purchased the parcel of land where the original sugar shack was located in the mid-1950s. Since about 1955, they had this maple syrup farm.”
The Larivière family purchased the farm from the Despatie family in 2017.
“At the time, it would be fair to say the property needed a bit of TLC,” said Larivière. “From 2017 onwards, we have been rebuilding, reconstructing, polishing, and turning what used to be a really traditional maple syrup farm into a more modern version while still keeping the romance of timber-framed barns and wood-fired maple syrup making equipment.”
Maple Hill Farm was prepared to open its doors to the public in early 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on its grand opening.
“The most we’ve been able to do so far is sell our syrup and confections in our storefront. There were a lot of things that we wanted to do a lot earlier,” said Larivière.
“We used to have busloads of school-aged children coming in for tours and to taste traditional food and fare. That stopped completely with COVID, so my wife and I have been waiting ever since to finally be able to open.”
The Larivières chose to purchase the farm, in part, to honour a family connection.
“My parents were schoolteachers, and when my father became ill, the most he could do to continue in the profession, given his illness, was giving tours to the kids,” said Larivière.
“He would come out to the farm for a few hours every morning and give tours. He had a really strong connection to the land. My mom was also involved with preparing food and stuff like that.”
When they first purchased the farm, Larivière had no idea how to make maple syrup, but he was willing to learn.
“Other farms have been very generous with the information they’ve shared. I found that YouTube was also very valuable,” he said.
“In some way, purchasing this farm was a bit of a shrine to both of our fathers because my wife’s father was very much into sugaring, as well. It’s an homage to both of them, and we think about them a lot when we’re up here working at the farm.”
Maple Hill Farm is excited to open its doors once again to visitors this fall.
They will be a hosting a Fall in Love with Maple weekend on Sept. 25 and 26 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The event will feature tours, taffy tasting, a scavenger hunt, live music, and maple-infused food. Wagon rides will also be available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Science North will be on site with their Greater Northern Ontario Roadshow experience where kids and adults can learn about opportunities for adventure in their own backyard and take home a kit of science activities.
Maple Hill Farm is located at 450 Dominion Dr. in Hanmer.
To buy tickets for the event, visit www.mapleevent.eventbrite.ca to register to attend on Saturday or www.mapleevent2.eventbrite.ca to register to attend on Sunday.
For more information on Maple Hill Farm, visit www.maplehillfarm.ca.
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Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star