Bob Collins of Arrowvale Farms feeds the sugar shack stove with help from his granddaughter, Evelyn, 4, at the annual Maple Syrup Festival at the end of February. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Big leaf maple tradition firmly rooted in Arrowvale Farm

BY MIKE YOUDS

Special to the News

It’s a sweet tale of East meets West that Bob Collins cooks up each February in his sugar shack at Arrowvale Farm.

Maple syrup — the liquid gold synonymous with late winter/early spring in Eastern Canada — has come West in a big way. Unlike Quebec and Ontario, where making maple syrup is a well-established industry, the tradition didn’t take root here until a couple of decades ago.

Out West, it took some UBC research to perfect the process, Collins explained at Arrowvale’s 14th annual Maple Syrup Festival at the end of February. Visitors to the farm strolled the grounds, enjoying the petting farm and savouring maple-baked beans, maple muffins, bottled syrups and other treats for sale at the farm’s café.

“They were trying to do it by the same schedule as in Ontario and Quebec,” he said, tending the boiling sap atop a cast iron stove in his shack. “It doesn’t work here.”

Maple syrup can be made from almost any variety of maple tree. Big leaf maples, the largest and most common variety on Vancouver Island, have grown to be the basis for a budding industry in B.C.

“This sap has less sugar but tremendous volume,” Collins said. The drawback is that productivity depends entirely on the whims of nature, making for an unpredictable output, he noted. In 2010, a relatively warm winter, Arrowvale made no syrup.

Uncertain conditions make it difficult to follow a business plan and explains why the Collins have always kept their production small scale. Nonetheless, they continue to celebrate each season by inviting the public to the festival. Big leaf maples, including several giant trees near the river, are dispersed around the farm’s four to six hectares of forested land along the Somass River.

“There’s no secret to syrup,” Collins said. “There’s no additives. It’s just boiling the stuff.”

Arrowvale isn’t the only producer of maple syrup in the valley. A handful of farms as well as Hupacasath First Nation, which started its Kleekhoot Gold enterprise three years ago, are now in the business as well.

B.C. syrup is every ounce as flavourful as its eastern forerunner. And while maple syrup is high in sugar content, it also contains beneficial nutrients and antioxidants.

“The things is, with maple syrup, it is nutritious,” said Ann Collins, spooning out samples of the quintessentially Canadian treat.

 

Members of the public chat with farmer Bob Collins (in ball cap) in front of the sugar shack at Arrowvale Farm. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

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