BLYTH – A trip to the sugar bush is a childhood recollection that brings warm fuzzies to most people.
These excursions still reward children with beautiful memories, the sweet smell of maple syrup cooking over an open fire, and maybe a wagon ride. Then the ultimate prize, pancakes smothered in butter and maple syrup.
Snuggled in the heart of Southwestern Ontario is Blyth Creek Maple Farm, a sweet retreat, away from the everyday pressures of life, to step back in time for a little while.
Steve and Val Bachert and their family welcome people to the farm to visit the sugar bush to experience maple syrup making history.
“The 30 acres of wood lot is home to many maple trees which we tap to collect maple sap in the early spring months and boil it down to delectable golden pure maple syrup,” their website said.
“With a short season of about six weeks, our family is bustling from sun up to many hours after sundown with the collection of sap and the boiling, right down to bottling of our finished product.
“The sugar shack provides an environment where talking and laughing bring us together as a family.”
The farm re-opened its doors on March 13, after COVID-19 caused the Bachert family to close the popular, local attraction after only 80 guests last year.
Steve Bachert said that the previous year, before the pandemic, they welcomed nearly 2,000 guests.
The sugar bush tours and sweet shop are both open with a modified setup this year to accommodate the current Public Health restrictions. They now offer small groups a socially distanced opportunity to get out of the house.
Guests are chauffeured from the fire-warmed waiting area in a covered trailer pulled by a tractor with plenty of room for masked patrons to sit safely and enjoy the surrounding landscape passing by.
Young children pondered at the pooling water in the fields, joking about maybe having a swim and thinking that the water would be freezing. A sharp turn to the left reassured the kids they would not get dunked in the icy water.
Upon arrival at the beginning of the tour, the excited children and their families gathered together to listen to Bachert. He explained the rules and began the unforgettable tour of the sugar bush.
The first stop took families back in time when the local Indigenous People, the Ojibwa (Anishinaabe), discovered maple sap.
With the backdrop of a roughly made wigwam, he included the children in the tour, asking them questions to make them think about how the “Original People” lived.
The kids thought about what they have now that the children then would not have had, like electricity or cars.
Bachert described the history of how the Anishinaabe people accidentally discovered maple syrup. He then demonstrated how they used rocks to heat the sap in a dug-out log, encouraging them to get close to the steam for the sweet smell of maple sap as the hot stones landed.
Next, the group tried their hand at archery, learning the hunting values for food, something they learned that Indigenous people did before the creation of grocery stores.
The next exhibit was titled the Pioneer Maple Syrup Days, where guests learned about the creation of iron pots and saw how these pots made syrup making easier.
Bachert taught them how to use a crosscut saw (if the guest was over 16). They were shown how the pioneers used hot iron brands to burn images onto a piece of cedar that they had cut with the crosscut saw themselves. They were given the branded wood to take home as a souvenir.
The troupe then walked over the Blyth Creek, where Bachert told them about the fish who come to spawn in the spring.
An excerpt from their website described it, “the rush of water in the spring flows up the stream with a host of spawning rainbow trout which find our birthing beds perfect to lay their eggs.”
The next stop was the trading post, where the guests were treated to stories about wildlife and the importance of the fur trade before there was money. Bachert told them about the invention of wooden nickels, which were first created to count the number of furs that the trader brought to the post.
The sugar bush tour ended with a wagon ride back to the sweet shop, where pancakes, maple sausages, and maple baked beans were on the menu.
The fully stocked sweet shop, filled with bottles of fresh maple syrup, fudge, and other treats to bring home, welcomed the guests after their time in the sugar bush.
The friendly, welcoming atmosphere will last in the guest’s memories long after the smell of syrup cooking over an open fire fades.
You can visit the farm’s website for more information on how to book your own tour at www.blythcreekmaplefarm.com.
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times