By Ross Lees
Staff Reporter _____________________________
"Mah-Kwan Kadeek", from
the language of the Maliseet Indians of New Brunswick,
translates to "the place where maple sugar is made." Mah-Kwan
Kadeek is located on the 8th Concession of Tyendinaga
Township at RR1, Shannonville, and is owned by Terry Gervais
and his family.
Now consisting of 309 acres, 2,700
tapped trees and 5,300 taps, Mah-Kwan Kadeek was not always
this large or productive. As a matter of fact, the snug
little sugar shanty nestled among the syrup-producing
maples on the farm today might even be termed downright
luxurious from its humble beginnings 11 years ago.
Terry Gervais can't help but express
pride at the way his humble hobby has blossomed into a
sweetly-successful business, a business that is a marked
contrast to Gervais' everyday business, serving food and
renting equipment in Toronto. Gervais owns his own restaurant
and also rents equipment for catering, but his boyhood
dreams as a Boy Scout were answered 11 years ago when
he purchased 230 acres of property from Joe Daily.
This 43-year-old entrepreneur has steadily
improved and enhanced his maple sugarbush and shanty to
the point where his first year's tapping looks positively
to current production. His original year in the maple
syrup business saw him place 275 taps and produce 110
litres of syrup from a very small, thrown-together shanty
that barely housed his make-shift boiling equipment. This
year, even as he collects the sap from his trees, he is
again expanding his shanty.
Gervais generally begins tapping just
after Valentine's Day and will work at it with three other
people for about two weeks. Their work not only consists
of inserting taps in the trees, but of repairing squirrel-damaged
lines as well.
By March beak, Gervais is ready for
the syrup to flow and his business becomes a family affair
as his wife Vickie and their three children move into
the shanty to help with the chores that fill the long
hours needed to convert the sweet, watery sap into thick,
delicious, Canada 1, medium syrup.
Gervais terms this year "very poor" for syrup, but it
is still early enough for plenty of sap to run. "Normally,
I would be finished tapping by April 5, but last year
our best runs came after April 5. I produced 2,712.5 litres
of syrup last year and, with the amount of taps I have
in this year, I should produce around 3,700 litres," Gervais
told The Beaver last week.
Having gone to a vacuum system of collecting
the sap, Gervais finds it a better system in many ways.
"First, you get better syrup and you should get, some
the amount of sap. The sap is cleaner
because it is not open to the flies and bugs, but I do
leave some pails around the shack because it is more romantic."
The vacuum system takes away a lot
of the tripping through the bush to gather the sap. The
negative pressure created in the system pulls the sap
out of the trees, when it is running, like a vacuum cleaner.
A pump, located within the system, pumps the sap to a
tank above the two evaporators connected in series in
The sap passes through both evaporators,
becoming thicker as the water is boiled out of it. Instead
of "taking the syrup off" in the second evaporator, Gervais
transfers the thickening syrup to a smaller, propane-heated
evaporator that provides better control for the final
boiling of the syrup.
The hustle and bustle around the shanty
appears relaxing to Gervais and his family. Everyone has
their job to do, but all seem to enjoy the freedom and
honest labor required to make their world-renowned product.
"It's a change of pace from the business in Toronto,"
Gervais says as he sips on a cup of coffee made from distilled
water from the evaporators and sweetened with his own
maple syrup. Most Indians living
near the inland waterway of the Great lakes and the St.
Lawrence Valley produced maple sugar as their basic source
of sweetener many years before the Europeans arrived.
An Indian male was usually in charge of boiling sap, while
his wife and children assisted by gathering wood. Sap
was placed into hollowed basswood logs. Hot stones were
then placed into this sap, causing it to evaporate. Forty
drops of sap made one drop of syrup. From birchbark containers
and long troughs to wooden buckets and iron kettles, to
plastic pipelines and modern evaporators, maple syrup
remains as it always has been... our first taste of spring.
Reproduced from the tag on all Mah-Kwan Kadeek syrup.