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“Let’s Indulge Our Sweet Tooth!”

For the week of Monday April 29, 2013

On May 2, 1925, a large Quebec farm co-operative, Les producteurs de sucre d’érable du Québec, opened its doors. It fuelled the maple syrup production (maple sugaring) industry in Canada and helped to establish the world-class reputation of Canadian maple products.

Maple syrup production in the forest during sugar season in Sainte-Geneviève, Quebec
© Library and Archives Canada / Canadian Illustrated News / Vol. III, No. 18, May 6, 1871 / 4431
When the French colonized North America, the First Nations taught them how to harvest maple sap. Little by little, maple products became a staple food among the inhabitants of New France. Taste for sweets, as well as maple syrup production, continued to grow with the arrival of the British in the mid-18th century, increasing consumption of maple products in British North American colonies.

In the early 20th century, the maple syrup production industry was in crisis. The price of maple products had been plummeting since the turn of the century. Prices recovered with the start of the First World War in 1914, bringing some prosperity, but fell in the early 1920s. To deal with the crisis, the Government of Quebec united the province’s 30,000 maple syrup producers into one co-operative. Les producteurs de sucre d’érable du Québec founded La Citadelle brand of maple syrup and opened its factory in Plessisville, Quebec, in 1927. In 1930, the Canadian government set quality standards and promoted the exceptional quality of Canadian maple products. As a result of this and some other factors, Canada dominated the United States market by 1932 and became the world’s largest producer of maple sugar and syrup.

Can of maple syrup
© Parks Canada / Vincent Bergeron / 2012
There are over 150 maple species in the world, but only 13 of those native to North America produce a sap that is mild enough to be consumed. Sap, which is harvested in the Maple Belt, a region that includes eastern Canada and part of the United States, is collected in the spring. It is then boiled down to reduce water content and create various products, such as maple syrup and sugar. These are still widely enjoyed today, especially at "sugar shacks" in the spring.

Maple production, designated a national historic event in 2007, played a key role in Canada in creating a rural way of life and in defining Canadian identity.

To learn more about Canadian products that shaped history, read The Discovery and Development of the McIntosh Apple and C. E. Saunders and the Miracle of Marquis in the This Week in History archives.

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