Both Deborah and Isaac’s families have been making maple syrup for generations.
Deborah’s mom recalls helping her uncle collect sap and hauling the syrup out of the bush on a large stone canoe pulled by a horse. Deborah’s father told her stories of how he helped his grandmother collect maple sap, boiling it in a large cast iron kettle. They would collect and haul the sap by horse and wagon.
Isaac recalls helping his grandfather make maple syrup as a young boy. Each family would have their own area to tap. His grandfather would make a gash in the tree using an axe. The sap would flow along a handmade wooden trough and into a birch bark basket. Isaac remembers the Elders building a temporary shelter out of saplings and covering the sides and top with balsam branches. The sap would be boiled inside all night long. As a young boy, Isaac recalls laying inside the hut and watching the stars at night. The Elders would often hunt and fish during the early morning, then catch some sleep during the day so they could boil sap all night long. The sap was boiled in a large cast iron kettle.
Deborah and Isaac used to tap about 25 maple trees on their current home on the Six Nations of the Grand River. Together with their 2 boys and Deborah’s father, they would collect the sap and boil all day outside. The family has fond memories of sharing stories, laughter and meals cooked over the fire.
Today, Deborah & Isaac are enjoying their new venture of making maple syrup on their farm on St. Joseph Island. When they purchased their farm, they had no intention of producing maple syrup; they just fell in love with the property!
Giizhigat Maple Products began to grow gradually in 2012 with the purchase of modern equipment and installation of 1500 taps. The first maple syrup run was in the spring of 2015. The trees on the property had never been tapped before, so it was a first for the trees, too! The 2015 season was not a great season for maple syrup due to warm weather and an early spring, but this proved to be a good thing – we discovered we had lots to learn: how to operate the new equipment, cleaning tanks, boiling temperatures, degrees brix, checking and repairing our lines. There was so much to learn! The slow season gave the newbie producers more time to learn. This process couldn’t be done without the help of our children and families who come and help whenever they can during maple season.
In the summer of 2015, we added another 2000 taps to our operation. After the day begins warming up, the sap starts to run around 11 a.m. and we boil until around 7 p.m. By the time we finish the shutdown, we’re often finishing our day around 9 p.m. The 2016 season was a great one with about 2 months of sap run! We estimate that we used about 20 cords of wood in our boil fires. We’re still learning as we struggled with sugar sand last year, a problem facing many maple syrup producers.
We are gearing up and very excited for the upcoming 2017 season. We have purchased more equipment, a Reverse Osmosis machine [RO] that should help reduce the amount of wood that is needed. Even so, we have been cutting wood all summer and estimate that we have another 20 cords ready to go! We have also spent the summer months repairing any damage done to our lines from fallen trees. We’ve attended workshops to learn more about the RO and to increase our knowledge about all aspects of the business.
For us, it is not just about making maple syrup. The maple syrup is an avenue to provide an income so that Isaac can fulfil his vision to build Rainbow Thunder Star Mountain Teaching Lodge, a place where all colours of man can come to learn the teachings, learn how to reconnect to Mother Earth, and thereby learn about their true purpose in life, where we can learn how to become real human beings again.
Each season we open with a sacred ceremony, giving thanks to the Creator, to the Grandmothers and Grandfathers for all life.
We invite that Spirit of change (seasons) to come. It is not obligated to come. We invite the water, sweetness of life, to come. We invite the warm winds, the breath of life, to come and bring warmth to the people.
We close each season in the same way giving thanks for all life and giving thanks for everything that has been provided.