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An extra-sweet sap festival

From Church Street down the length of the Arthur Street mall, and across to the Woolwich Memorial Centre, Lions Hall and EDSS, the town of Elmira was packed with visitors from all over attending this year’s maple syrup festival on Saturday. Balmy spring weather over the weekend was the chief reason for what proved to be a massive attendance at this year’s festival, which celebrated its 55th anniversary.

While it will be some time before all the receipts are added together and crowd sizes are measured up, organizers were reporting an exceptionally strong turnout at this year’s festival, perhaps hitting 80,000, up significantly from 55,000 last year.

“Well, we were blessed with near ideal weather,” said David Unrau, an organizer for the festival. “Friday setup was not as horrible as the forecast. At least downtown we didn’t seem to get any of the freezing rain, so that was quite welcome. So it started out better than last year when we had some snow and a delay in getting the tents up.

“And Saturday, cripes, at about 8 o’clock it was sun and blue sky. It was really quite something.”

Unrau was the head of the festival’s pancake committee again this year; and while he couldn’t yet say how many people were at the festival, he did notice a significant uptick in demand from his vantage point at the popular pancake tent.

“We haven’t really got the tally quite completed yet, but I can tell you that we used 1,847 lbs of batter,” said Unrau. “And it was 512 lbs of maple sausage.”

By contrast, in 2018 only 1,304 lbs of batter was used, or about 500 lbs less. “It was definitely busier than last year. Last year we did 1,304 lbs of batter and 490 lbs of sausage. Coffee was down a bit, chocolate was down a bit compared to this year.”

Pancakes were such a hot commodity this year that people were seeing milling about the pancake tent even before the 7 a.m. opening to pick up their ticket.

“I was surprised to see – it was before 7 already, and there were people lined up at the ticket booth,” he said.

Elmira Maple Syrup Festival committee member Doug McLean agreed, though noting it would be weeks before the festival had counted up all the proceeds from this year’s event. With the festival serving as fundraiser for charities and organizations in the township, as well as an economic boost for local vendors, the early indications suggest a very good windfall.

“The festival was a big success,” said McLean. “I mean, the weather was the best weather we’ve had in several years, and lots of people came out. And obviously they had quite a busy full time downtown, it was quite full. The sugar bush tours were right full, and everything was very active and busy.

“There’ll be money coming in for the next couple of weeks from all the people that donate, and the venues that contribute after the festival,” he added of the final dollar value raised.

Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz, too, remarked on the good weather bringing in the crowds, as well as the tireless work of the festival’s many volunteers.

“There are so many volunteers that work, from the day that it closes until the day it happens next year to make it happen, so it’s just a great event to bring community together,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful event.”

Once the dollars and cents are added up, the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival committee will be divvying up the funds raised to local organizations. Last year, a total of $45,000 was given out to almost 30 organizations in the township, including Elmira District Community Living, Woolwich Community Services, the Elmira Theatre Company, the 1st Elmira Scout Group  and several public school parent councils.

“There’s a lot of heebie-jeebies about getting everything set and trying to take care of all the details, and the weather’s the wild card, and you have all this anxiety. And then it’s all over and you can relax a little bit,” said Unrau.

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