A Sticky Situation at the Albert County Museum

The Albert County Museum has many stories to be told.  In our display called ‘Wonderful Winter’ we have several artefacts that help tell one such story: Maple Syrup!

The Natives were the first to harvest sap to make maple syrup in Albert County.  To extract the sap from the maple trees, the natives would cut an upward slash in the tree and place a reed or sliver of wood in the cut.  The sap would run up the tree, get stopped by the reed then follow the reed out and drip into a birch bark container called a cassa.  The cassas would also be used to evaporate the sap down to make syrup.  They would heat rocks in a fire then place the cassa on the hot rocks to heat the liquid inside.  It was a long process but eventually enough of the water would evaporate away leaving a delicious sweet syrup.

When the French and then subsequently the English settled in Albert County, natives taught them how to extract maple syrup and use it as food.  The first commercial production of maple syrup in Albert County was in the early 1840’s by the Colpitts family.  In their first year of production they gathered enough sap to produce 6200 pounds of maple sugar.  All the sap was gathered in birch bark cassas!  The annual output of maple sugar from the Parish of Elgin was approximately 80,000 pounds.  (1851 Census data.)  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.  It takes one gallon of syrup to make 8 pounds of Maple Sugar.  When you do the math that means that 400,000 gallons of sap were collected to make the 80,000 pounds of sugar.

The cassas were replaced with tin in the 1800’s.  Tin rusts so it was replaced by what was called English tin.  The welds of English tin contain lead and some cans were even lined with lead to keep them from rusting.  Galvanized metal was developed in the early 1900’s after discovering the harmful effects of the lead-lined English tin.  The lids for the cans were developed shortly after the galvanized metal cans.  The first lids were just cut metal but because the edges were sharp they started rolling the edges.  The sap would be transferred from the cans to carrying buckets and then poured into the gathering tank.

The large gathering tank would be placed on a sled and drawn by a horse.  The inverted conical shape of the top is to allow the sap to be poured from the sap cans and it would run down to the center and through the filters to remove any twigs or debris that fell in the open cans.  The shape also prevents the sap from splashing out of the top opening as it is being transported over uneven snow.

The sap was brought to large storage tanks where it could then feed into the evaporator.  The large evaporator on display at the museum was brand new in 1950.  It is a commercial sized evaporator that cannot be used today because it is made of English tin.  Today’s health regulations require stainless steel.  The sap flows in through the pipe to boil in the large vat.  The flow is controlled by the float.  As the water evaporates and the level drops, the float opens the pipe to allow more sap in.  The large vat is ‘fluted’ to create a much larger surface area for heat transfer therefore increasing the efficiency.  As it boils down, the sap transfers to the smaller vat by a float control as well.  In the smaller vat the sap flows through each section as the density changes until it is ready to bottle.

The cauldron beside the evaporator is another way of boiling sap down to syrup for families that just wanted to make their own supply.  It would be suspended over an open fire as depicted in the picture.

Eastman Steeves 5 small.jpg

The picture relates to Eastman Steeves and his family’s sugar camp in Rosevale, Albert County (the back side of Caledonia Mountain.)

After syrup is made it can be boiled down further to make maple candy or maple sugar.  This was usually done in a large pan on a cook stove.  Maple candy is made by boiling syrup to a specific temperature then taking it outside and pouring it over the snow.

The sugar camp where most of the equipment on display came from did not have a thermometer so they found a very unique stick that branches out in four directions from a single point creating fingers where they would place a snowball and then dip it in the boiling syrup.  If the candy formed properly on the snowball, they knew it was ready.

When making maple sugar it naturally wants to form lumps, a masher would be used to mash the lumps out.  Once the sugar was ready it would be placed in maple sugar moulds – ½ pound and 1 pound sizes were popular for commercial resale.  Wood paddles were used for working the sugar into the moulds.  Maple sugar and maple cream are actually the same thing.  When rationing of sugar was introduced in Canada during WW II maple sugar producers decided to change the name from sugar to cream so that it would not be subject to rationing.