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March is off to a sweet start

'It's really sweet. It's really good. I've never had real maple syrup before' Maddie Smith New Zealand exchange student

Maple syrup season is officially underway in the Powassan area.

The annual tree tapping ceremony took place Saturday at Matthews Maple Syrup in Powassan. Area producers and visitors watched as local politicians, or their representatives, tapped trees to kick off a tradition dating back nearly 20 years.

“This is a really important event for the area. This gets everybody thinking about our Maple Syrup Festival on April 28th, " said Powassan Mayor Peter McIsaac.

Exchange student Maddie Smith arrived in North Bay from New Zealand just over a month ago. Tasting maple taffy made by pouring hot syrup onto a sheet of ice was an entirely new experience.  

“It’s very nice. It’s really sweet, it’s really good. I’ve never had real maple syrup before. The real natural maple syrup is much better than what I normally have. I'm so excited to be here,” said Smith.

Originally from the United States, Melissa Johnson and her family were eager to take in all the action.  

“We’re looking forward to the sleigh ride and trying a little bit of the syrup. This is my first winter, so I’ve never experienced all this before. I don’t know the whole process, so I’m learning about all of that,” laughed Johnson.

Oldest son Malik enjoyed feeding hay to the horses. 

“I think they’re really pretty and I really like animals, so this is a really good chance for me to see them. I think the first time tasting maple syrup will be really good because everyone says it’s really good around here,” said the nine-year-old. 

“We have two teams of horses here, for sleigh rides. That’s always a big attraction. It’s about a 20-minute ride with the drivers stopping along the way to give some interesting tidbits about the operation,” said business owner Dave Matthews.

“People can come into the Sugar Shack here and we’ll show how we make maple syrup. It’s been a little bit cool. We’ve made 100 gallons already, but it is a little bit cool for sap to be running, so we explain how we make it and quite often we’re either making candy or bottling.”

Six-year-old Xavier Johnson was surprised to learn they make maple candy.

“They do? That’s cool. I’ve tried the taffy. It was really good. I would like to try some more,” he said quickly turning to his dad. 

The day was a family affair for Julie Lavictoire, her husband, and their two young boys. They brought Julie's parents who were visiting from Petawawa.

“We come every year.  It’s just one of our favourite things we look forward to, it just kind of means the start of spring. We enjoy being outside, seeing the horses and being able to teach the kids about the Canadian history, our culture,” said Lavictoire.

The Matthews family has been tapping trees since the 1930"s. By 1959, the family had 400 taps in the sugarbush. This year the number of taps running is about 17,000. 

“We have about 30 kilometres of the main pipe in the bush, and we have about 120 kilometres of tubing in the bush," said Dave Matthews.

"The sap ran a little bit in February and early March. We were about three-quarters tapped whenever the sap was running, but since about the fifth of March, it has been frozen solid. We haven’t got a drop coming in because it is too cold. Normally sap starts around the 15th of March.”

Weather can make or break a season. 

“It all depends on Mother Nature. If it stays cool and warms up slightly as we go through March and April, we’ll make lots of syrup. You really want the wood in the trees to freeze at night for a few hours, and when it thaws the next day, that’s when you get the best sap flow. So minus five for about five, six hours during the night, and back up to say three to five degrees in the daytime. That would be ideal”  

Last year Matthews made over 6,000 gallons of maple syrup.  

The operation will be open throughout the March Break, with Scouts working the barbecue.