Votary's Sugar Bush

Holle Pratt-Campbell

Frontenac his Week - April 2010

To many people in southern Ontario the end of the deep freeze means sap starts to run in the sugar bush. Many local producers began tapping trees as early as last week.

Few people know more about maple syrup than Bill Votary from Votary’s Maple Bush in Perth Road Village. Bill’s father, Harry, first built a sugar shack on the family’s farm in 1919, when he (Harry) was only 15 years old. For as long as Bill can remember, he has been involved in producing the smooth, sugary treat.

“I used to go up with my dad to the bush right from the time I was a toddler,” recalls Votary. “I remember when we just had a wooden barrel on a sleigh behind the horses going to get the sap.”

Making syrup has never been a task for the lazy, especially back in those days. Votary explains that he and his father would often have 2,000 taps in a season. To make syrup, sap must be boiled. This is generally done in a machine called an evaporator. Before the days of large scale evaporators, maple syrup making could quite literally be a day-long activity.

“My dad would often boil all day and all night,” says Votary. “He might come home at three or four o’clock in the morning, have a little sleep, then at six go back and boil again. If you do that for two or three days, you get pretty tired.”

In the 1940's Harry Votary bought a large evaporator, measuring four feet wide by sixteen feet long. Since then, Bill has been forced to downsize, largely due to the devastation inflicted on his farm by Ice Storm ‘98.

“We went from having about 2,000 taps here to around 800,” he says. “So there’s been some big changes. We’ve got some new trees coming now, though.”

One thing at Votary’s Maple Bush that has stayed the same throughout the years, is the fact that it is very much a family run business. At age 81, Bill is still going strong, keeping his father’s legacy alive with the help of his wife, Louisa, and their children and grandchildren.

 

Last Saturday, Bill had a whole gang of helpers to lend a hand tapping trees on the first major work weekend of the maple syrup season, including his daughter, Judy Buckley and her husband Dan, their son John, Bill’s son Richard and his daughter Breanna, and a young neighbour named Lucas Wilson. The children enjoyed their task of setting up hoses and buckets for the sap to drip into.

“I know it seems like work but it's really not if you have fun doing it,” remarks Lucas.

Temperatures have a huge impact on the quality and quantity of maple syrup produced.

So far, this year has brought ideal weather conditions for sap production, with its crisp, cold nights and warm, clear days.

“For quite a few years it kept going downhill, “ says Votary. “It would be one degree at night and one degree in the daytime and it didn’t make the sap run. Last year was better we did quite well, (producing some 540 litres) and we’re hoping this year will be the same.”

These days, Bill and Louisa sell the syrup exclusively out of their home in Perth Road Village.

People can also enjoy a taste of Votarys’ syrup at Perth Road United Church’s annual Maple Syrup Festival, held April 10 starting at 9 a.m. in the church hall. (* Please check Coming Events page for current dates) Guests will be invited to take wagon rides to Votary’s Maple Bush, and see for themselves this sweet little piece of history.