The Roots of Canadian Maple Syrup

Maple syrup has long been known as a Canadian product. With 75 percent of the global market and maple goods exports of $515 million in 2020 alone, Canada is the world’s leading maple producer.

But maple syrup is more than just a valuable product for export. It holds an important place in our culture and heritage, with origins in Indigenous communities that first developed the process of tapping into this important resource.

costumed educator at Kortright Centre for Conservation demonstrates the traditional method of making maple syrup
TRCA’s Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival offers a fascinating look at the history of maple syrup production in Canada, which began with Indigenous peoples.

Before European settlers arrived in Canada, Indigenous peoples, including the Anishinaabe, Abenaki, Haudenosaunee, and Mi’kmaq, tapped maple trees for their “sweet water.”

Residing in what is now known as the “Maple Belt” – the hardwood deciduous forest that extends from the midwestern United States and across Ontario, Quebec, New England, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island – Indigenous peoples in these areas had access to red, black, and sugar maples.

They learned about the sap the trees produced and its uses, and developed tools and techniques to help them access it.

the forest at Kortright Centre for Conservation in March
The forest at Kortright Centre for Conservation in March. In the great forests of what is now eastern Canada, Indigenous peoples developed an appreciation of the maple tree and its uses.

In the early spring, when the temperature begins to rise above freezing – a brief period that the Anishinaabe peoples called the “maple moon” or “sugar month” – communities would go out for the annual collection of sap.

A maple tree would be tapped by creating a small hole from which the sap could exit, and then a handmade birch-bark bucket would be hung beneath the hole.

Tapping techniques varied. Some cut a v-shape into the bark, while others cut a hole and inserted a spout, or spile, made from basswood or willow tubes to direct the flow into the bucket below.

Once the sap was collected, it would be left out in the cold to naturally separate the lighter water from the heavier sugar syrup. The frozen water would then be skimmed off. Others boiled the sap down to syrup in clay or metal pots over a fire.

once sap was collected from maple trees it would be left out in the cold to naturally separate the lighter water from the heavier sugar syrup

Maple syrup has been significant to Indigenous peoples for thousands of years, helping to sustain them. It was used for multiple purposes: as a sweetener, an anesthetic, to preserve meats through the process of curing, and eventually as a trade item.

Indigenous peoples passed their knowledge to the Europeans who arrived in the 1600s. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, maple syrup production began more broadly among settlers.

Today, businesses of all sizes – from small, local operations to large international companies – are engaged in making Canada the global leader in maple products.

While new innovations in evaporation methods have been introduced over time, the essential practice of maple syrup production learned from Indigenous communities has remained the same.

Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) celebrates the history and tradition of maple syrup production with our annual Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival. Join us to learn about the production process, see demonstrations first-hand, and discover the Indigenous origins of maple syrup.

The festival continues until Saturday, April 1 at Kortright Centre for Conservation and Bruce’s Mill Conservation Park. Visit to get tickets. They’re going quickly, so don’t wait!

Join the Indigenous Action Committee today and tomorrow at Kortright Centre from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for a “Cultural Campfire”. Enjoy contemporary Indigenous music and storytelling around the campfire. All are welcome!

the Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival at Kortright Centre for Conservation
TRCA’s Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival continues until April 1, 2023.

Already have maple syrup at home and looking for a recipe to make good use of it? Stay tuned: we’ll be posting a quick and easy recipe to the TRCA newsfeed on March 20 that you’re sure to want to try!