Agriculture Life on the Farm News

LIFE ON THE FARM: Sugar Shack

Auctions Ontario
Written by Auctions Ontario

There are several unique things about living in a country that has four distinct seasons. One being though you are still in the middle of a particular season Mother Nature starts giving hints that something else is coming. The nicest thing I suppose is the variety the seasons afford us. I had friends who served as missionaries in New Guinea for years. They would come back and tell of 6 a.m. sunrises, 6 p.m. sunsets 365 days of the year, no change or very little, boring. We as Canadians are fortunate in being able to experience the rebirth of spring, the laziness of summer, the color of autumn, and the freshness of winter.

Another thing I appreciate about changing seasons is how even though you may be smack dab in the middle of one we start getting hints of an impending change. Take February for instance Old Man Winter can still be flaunting his anger, yet when the sun shines you feel a warmth that she didn’t have in December and January. When I feel the heat of the sun in St. Valentine’s month I think how maple syrup season is just around the corner. As the treetops warm the sap begins to flow to encourage those dormant deciduous trees to come back to life. Even though in my geographical area sugar season might still be a month or more away thoughts of a unique time of year start to drift into my mind. We never made maple syrup on our farm which in some ways is ironic. The farm’s address is Maple Ridge Road, autumn presents a pallet of color all around us and if you look directly west of the house about 50 yards away there starts a Maple forest. They weren’t on our property those hard maples. (There is hard and soft maple. Hard maple is the maple tree’s highest in sugar content.) So we helped our neighbors in the sugar bush.

In my early years, the farm to the west was owned by Cecil & Mabel Goodmurphy. Cec always had a team of workhorses. I remember only one by the name he was called Cubby and I don’t know why that name has stuck. I know there were others and they always seemed to be black in color. The Goodmurphy’s tapped about 1000 trees and in those days it was all done by hanging buckets on the trees. Pipelines and vacuum pumps to milk the trees were a futuristic concept back then. When the sap runs and all the holding reservoirs start to fill it required long days in the evaporating shack. Dad would either help Cec by collecting the sap so he could keep boiling or the odd time watch the evaporator so he could get a couple of hours of sleep.

To collect the sap a team of horses was harnessed and hitched to a sleigh. There was a large gathering tank on the sleigh with a strainer type lid. You would drive the team of horses weaving along trails amongst the trees and gather sap. Dumping the sap cans on the trees into pails and then wading through the snow with those pails to dump in the gathering tank. Once the gathering tank was full you would head to the sugar shack where you would dump into a larger holding tank. You would repeat this process over and over till the sap buckets on the trees were all emptied. When I was quite small I would stand on the sleigh and drive the team. I really felt like I was an integral part of the operation. As I look back now I realize the horses knew where they were going, they listened to Dad or Cec as they chirped the commands “gee, haw, giddy-up, whoa”. They probably knew the routine like they knew the inside of their oat buckets but for a six year old he felt it was a pretty important job. Even though I am old enough to know the truth about my role in the sugar bush now I still feel good about the pride I felt in my work back then. Proving once again every job is important in Life On The Farm.

Vernon