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Extending the sweetness beyond just festival day

This year, the ‘Maple Sugar Rush’ is not just something you get by putting too much syrup on pancakes. Instead it’s a regional initiative to show locals and tourists anything and everything maple, culminating in the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival (EMSF) on April 5.

Edgar Gingrich has been producing syrup in Elmira since 1987. Gearing up for the EMSF, he’s offering the sweet stuff to St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market visitors in the meantime. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Edgar Gingrich has been producing syrup in Elmira since 1987. Gearing up for the EMSF, he’s offering the sweet stuff to St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market visitors in the meantime. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
“Well, we didn’t know it was going to be a deep freeze; we kind of hoped the sap would be running,” said Minto Schneider, general manager at the Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation. “But, despite the weather we still thought people would be interested in coming out and seeing how maple syrup was made.”

If you love the early-spring outdoors, chances are you’re already familiar with the season’s offering of golden syrup, local haunts and sugar bush tours. But some of us need a bit of prompting to get out on the tourist rounds and see what the maple syrup season has to offer.

“I hope our locals are going out to enjoy what’s going on in our own region, but sometimes you find that people find out by accident that something is going on because they have people visiting that drag them out to go and see something local,” Schneider said.

St. Jacobs features prominently in the campaign to attract newcomers and returning locals, said Marilyn Wideman of St. Jacobs Country, also a part of the initiative.

The offerings of the local maple season are just a few of the region’s secrets, at least from an outsider’s perspective, Schneider said.

“That’s an issue that we have all of the time because there are so many people that live in Toronto and really have no idea what we have to offer here, so it’s something we struggle with all of the time.”

In preparation for the world’s largest one-day syrup festival, visitors are invited to stretch their stay past a day to enjoy the nooks and crannies of the St. Jacobs maple season. There are sugar bush tours, maple beer from a new microbrewery, and hearty breakfasts complete with local syrup to be had.

“Many people even locally don’t realize that [St. Jacobs] has the Maple Syrup Museum of Ontario located in the mill. That’s another place that people go to learn about the production and manufacture of syrup locally from times of indigenous people right through to modern day,” Wideman said.

As the festival hype begins, St. Jacobs and the Region of Waterloo at large are given a chance to pinpoint all things to do with maple syrup, said Wideman.

“We have the Farm Pantry which specializes in selling locally produced maple syrup and they always have samples there. So, for visitors coming out of the area who don’t know about maple syrup, they can taste light, medium and dark [syrup] and learn about the differences.

“What we are talking about is, what is unique for our area at this time of year is the maple syrup season; sugar bush tours, the opportunity to learn about how it is produced, to taste it, to buy it and then top this whole thing off with this phenomenal syrup festival in Elmira.”

The village’s geography, surrounded by syrup producers and sugar bushes, makes the it a hotspot this time of year and the pull of the EMSF, only a few kilometres away.

“We really need to grab people’s attention when they are attracted by a big event to say: ‘Hey, we’re more than just that. There are all sorts of things you can do when you are here,’” Schneider said.

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