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Weather dampens turnout, but not spirit of the sap fest

Hannah and Heidi Locking sampled pancakes at this years sap fest. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Hannah and Heidi Locking sampled pancakes at this years sap fest.[Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Hannah and Heidi Locking sampled pancakes at the 2014 Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival celebrated its 50th year on Saturday – an age when many people succumb to a mid-life crisis. For Ken Jessop, chairperson of the festival committee, the anniversary marked the end of an era for Canada’s largest one-day syrup festival … and the beginning of a new one.

“We put a business plan together two-and-a-half years ago with our vision of where we were going leading up to and past the 50th,” said Jessop on Wednesday. “Flap Jack, our mascot, was an initiative we were envisioning for the 50th. Those signs that we replaced on the north and south end of town, that was another vision.”

As the committee begins preparing for 2015 and festival number 51, it will now contemplate the tricky task of evolving and expanding a time-honoured tradition.

“We always want to keep the tradition alive, and keep the festival the way it has been for 50 years,” said Jessop. However, “part of our business plan is, we’ve got to recruit new blood. Some of our older volunteers are stepping down, we’re trying to recruit younger people so they can carry on the festival, ten or twenty years from now and beyond.”

A focus of the festival’s future will be the WMC, which this year included a magic show, the Birds of Prey, the pancake-flipping contest, face painting, and other activities. In the coming years, Jessop predicts the WMC will serve as a family-friendly complement to the Arthur Street mall.

“We often get emails from people saying, ‘[The festival] is nice, but do you have any events where we can spend time with the children?’” said Jessop. “We brought a couple new people in, and we’re developing the area up at the rec. centre. And we’ve already started to do that.”

People who showed up early on April 5 probably appreciated the WMC for its warmth. The morning’s subzero temperatures and light snow attributed to attendance that was down from recent years – somewhere in the 55,000-60,000 range, compared to the approximately 70,000 who turned up in 2013.

“One thing we can’t have any control over is the weather,” said Jessop. “It was disappointing the weather was a little cold in the morning, but as the day progressed we got people, and as a committee we were pretty pleased.”

Regarding the pancake tent, “We did not sell out, as we did in previous years, which would indicate too that our numbers were down.”

Despite the thin initial numbers, the weather improved in the afternoon, and crowds grew big enough to make the festival a success. As for reports that syrup producers were experiences a tough year, Jessop said that didn’t affect the festival.

“In normal years, the syrup had been flowing earlier because of mild weather. So when people went out on the sugar bush tours, the syrup wasn’t flowing. Well, this year it was – people who went out to those bushes would have seen the true production of maple syrup.”

The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival is no small commitment, and requires advance preparations spanning much of the calendar year. But for now, the festival committee is taking a breather before looking to 2015. “I think we’re all just putting our feet up and relaxing,” said Jessop.

View more 2014 Elmira Maple Syrup Festival photos on our Flickr page!

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