Tuesday, May 18, 2021

How sweet it is

Maple syrup business is a Simpson family tradition

  • March 31 2021
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

NORTH OGDEN – The sun’s out, the snow is melting and the sap is running fast in North Ogden, Guysborough County.

The Journal took what might be one of the last snowmobile rides of the year into the sugar bush March 22 to visit Lazy Maple Lodge, where the Simpson family has been making maple syrup since the late 1980s.

It all started with Roy Simpson, the last surviving Second World War veteran from the Guysborough area.

“He came back from the war and his sister was out in Northern Ontario and he decided he’d go and spend some time out there … His sister’s husband had a job in the sugar bush every winter and he got a job in there as well. And that’s how he got involved with it,” his son, Gary Simpson, explained.

“When he came back here, he just forgot about it but when we (Gary and his wife Bev) built a place here (in North Ogden) he was in here a lot, he helped me build the camp, and one time he said, ‘Do you mind if I tap a few trees?’… He had a little outside place here with a tarpaulin and a tree and a pan underneath. And that’s how it started,” said Simpson.

From the earliest days of the maple syrup operation, Roy Simpson used a combination of buckets and tubing to catch the harvest of sap from the sugar maples that make up much of the hardwood forest in this area. Today, Gary Simpson has almost 400 trees tapped and all but a few near the camp and sugar shack run on blue tubbing that criss-cross the forest like a giant cat’s cradle leading to a collection tank that feeds into a wood-fueled evaporator in the shack.

On average, Simpson makes 150 to 200 litres of syrup per season. It’s a small operation that sells by word of mouth and at the community market held over the summer months on the Guysborough Waterfront. Simpson said, with the tourists that come through the market most years, syrup from these woods has likely been served on tables around the world.

Due to the pandemic, Lazy Maple Lodge syrup was distributed closer to home this past year. Simpson said he was later than usual in clearing last year’s production and, “used a little bit more at home and gave a little more away.”

In a little wooden cottage, the sugar shack, with the tell-tale scent of a wood fire, maple syrup production is underway on this ideal spring day – with an FM radio station playing ‘70s music for company. After the sap goes through the evaporator, it is filtered through cloth bags, transferred to a pasteurizing machine, where it is brought up to 180 degrees Celsius and then bottled in sizes ranging from a 100ml to one gallon.

“The day is gaining on me,” said Simpson, as he looks into the sap collection tank. “I started boiling early this morning and I’m not keeping up with it. I’m probably going to have to boil all night … If the weather keeps on like this, it could be over real quick; these warm days.”

When asked when syrup production usually wraps up, Simpson said, jokingly, “When the sap stops.” The timing varies from year to year, he added, but generally the season comes to a halt at the end of March or beginning of April.

As so often is the case with names in Nova Scotia, there’s a story behind the naming of Lazy Maple Lodge. As a child, Gary Simpson’s daughter Danielle was out in the sugar bush with her grandfather Roy, checking the buckets on tapped trees, when she noticed one tree’s bucket had little to show for the day’s syrup run.

“She looked in it and said, ‘Poppa, there’s nothing in this one.’ Dad said, ‘No, there’s none in that one for sure?’ She said, ‘Well, just a little bit. It must be a lazy one.’ So, that’s where it got the name; he (Roy Simpson) named it,” explained Simpson.

As Simpson prepared for a night of stoking the fire to keep the sap on the boil, The Journal asked him what kept him working on a venture that, as he said, was a break-even operation.

“I love it. I just love it,” he answered, “And dad loved it, too. I don’t know what it is, just something about the smell and making something that is natural, I guess.”

To place an order for Lazy Maple Lodge syrup, contact the Simpsons by text at 902-863-8965 (Gary) or 902-863-8971 (Bev).