Perth Fair – Flashbacks of Fun!

Perth Fair midway 1

It wasn’t just our Mother who loved the Perth Fair.  Yes, she spent months preparing for those brief few hours each Labour Day weekend, at the fairgrounds, along Rogers Road, but the rest of the family also felt a sense of excitement, rivalled only by Christmas morning!

Perth Fair logo on blue

The day had arrived!  The day that we would drive into Perth, park at our Aunt Pat and Uncle Peter Stafford’s house on Halton Street, walk up the road, and enter the gates.  By the time we got to the entrance, and Mother showed her Exhibitor’s Pass, we were bursting with anticipation. I knew that Mother would be heading straight for the Homecraft Building to check on her entries, but instead, I chose to slow down, look around, and take it all in.

Perth Fair poster 1966

She glanced back, waved, and then rushed down the well worn path, through the midway, and up to the buildings. I stood with my back against the side of the Lion’s Hall, and glanced around. There was so much to see that I didn’t know where to look first.  Being a kid, my eyes naturally gravitated toward the rides.

Perth Fair ride 1   tilt a whirl

They were all spinning and whirring, and the bright sun was bouncing off of all of the shiny metal.  There was a Ferris wheel, a Scrambler, a Tilt-a-Whirl, and the Bullet.  The Swings took up a lot of room, and so they were set up to the right of the buildings.  I could see four kiddy rides: a Merry-Go-Round, Baby Airplanes going round in a circle, Ladybugs, and a Little Red Caboose making its way along a tiny round track.

Once my eyes had taken in the rides, my senses turned to all of the sweet aromas of the Fair. Right across from where I was standing was the Lion’s Club ladies’ booth, and I could smell their fresh, homemade hamburgers, and the savory scent of fried sweet onions.  Straight ahead of me, just past the entrance was a vendor swirling a paper funnel around and around, in a circle, pink cotton candy swelling out from the stick, as he twirled it inside the machine.

concession 1  cottonn candy

Next to the cotton candy stand, was a man selling corn on the cob, and several people were waiting in line.  Folks were holding their cobs by a short wooden stick that had been plunged right into the big end of the cob, and there were two or three separate unwrapped pounds of butter set on the edge of the counter of the vending cart. The butter had already taken on a curved shape as people spun their cobs, and then salted them.

corn on a stick  corn dog

Next to the corn vendor was the hot dog cart. A tall, lanky man was grilling hot dogs on one side, and the finished dogs were spinning slowly around glistening on the grill. On the other side of the wagon, a younger lad was piercing hot dogs with long slender sticks, dipping them in batter, and placing them into a big deep fryer.  The cart had a low shelf with mustard, ketchup and relish and some diced onions for people to dress their hot dogs.

candy apples   caramel apples

 

There were two more food carts, so I strolled a bit farther down the midway toward the buildings. The first cart held a popcorn machine, even bigger than the one that I’d seen at the Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls.  It was a large, metal machine, painted red, and the popcorn was spilling out of the top into a big glass case.  The vendor was lifting it out with a bright, silver scoop, and placing it into small white paper bags that were decorated with red stripes and a clown’s face.

popcorn

The last food vendor in front of the Commerce building, was making snow cones.  There was a square, metal and glass machine and an old man in a dirty apron was pouring ice cubes into a big funnel on the top.  There were white cone-shaped paper cups stacked in a tall dispenser attached to the side of the machine and when he cranked the handle on the opposite side snow came out of an opening at the front.  There were clear plastic squeeze bottles lined up on a shelf, at the front of the machine, and each was labeled with a different flavour: cherry, orange, lemon-lime, grape and blueberry.

snow cone

I’m not sure if I was really hungry or if it was just from seeing and smelling all of the different kinds of food, and I thought that I might buy either a small bag of popcorn, or a blueberry snow cone. I dug deep into my pocket, and pulled out my money.  I had exactly twelve dollars, and my money had to last for the whole weekend, and this was just the first day.  I needed to save some, because my friends Susan and Jane Munro, Patti Jordan, and Debbie Majaury, would be coming into town later, and I’d want to go on the rides with them. Because the rides were $1.25 each I had to be careful not to spend money on food, so I stuffed the bills and change back in my pocket, and kept walking, taking in all the sights along the way.

midway 2

Photo: 1967 Old Home week,  David Bromley (clown on the left) Fred Mather (clown on the right)

I heard a man’s voice yelling at me, and it startled me so much that I jumped.  I looked toward the man timidly, and he was in a game booth, right behind a food cart, and he had a table set up with some wooden milk bottles, stacked in a pyramid.  He had a baseball in his hand, and called to me to come and knock over the milk bottles. It scared me so much that I just walked away.  I wasn’t used to strangers.  We knew everyone out on the Third Line, and lots of the folks in Perth as well.  None of the people we knew ever yelled at us like that, right out of the blue, and certainly not a stranger.  I walked quickly away, not looking back.

ring toss

The people that operated the games made me nervous.  They had a lot of tattoos, which was something we never saw in those days.  Many of them were a bit too aggressive. I’d played some of those games before, and although I won, I didn’t get the big stuffed bears and dogs that were hanging along the top and sides of their booth.

carnie

I’ll never forget the first time I played a game.  The back wall of the booth had four or five rows of balloons blown up, and they were stuck to the wall.  I thought I’d have no problem hitting one of the balloons, so when the man yelled at me to come and play, I thought it would be a sure thing.

prize every time

He said it was $1.00 for three darts so I handed him my money, and he handed me three darts.  Sure enough, the balloons weren’t that far away, and I hit and burst all three of them.

3 darts for a dollar

 

He reached down under the table, into a big cardboard box, and handed me a mangy looking stuffed snake.  It was about six inches long, and had an orange felt tongue, badly stitched onto its mouth, and two black felt eyes, that weren’t even lined up.

I looked up at the big stuffed bears and asked him why I hadn’t won one of those.  He said that my prize was a ‘small’ and if I wanted a ‘large’ prize I’d have to play and win, trading up to a ‘medium’ then win a certain number of ‘mediums’ and then I’d finally get one of the big bears. Holy cow!  Talk about disappointed!  What kind of scam was that?  Folks from Bathurst Township were used to other people dealing with them fairly. This game seemed like out and out trickery, and I wasn’t very impressed.  Still, I didn’t want to tell Mother that I’d just wasted my money, so I kept it to myself.  I didn’t even want to tell my friends that I’d been fooled like that.  I just felt stupid.

I walked by all of the other game booths, and watched people play.  Some folks walking around the fairgrounds were actually carrying one of the great big stuffed animals.  I wondered to myself how many of those mangy stuffed snakes they’d had to trade up in order to finally claim the big prize.

Perth Fair 1956

Photo: Perth Fair 1956 – L to R –  Wanda Mahon, Bette Duncan, Mary Douglas, Marsha Ann Nichols, Heather Murphy, Bill Redman (Bill operated the concession stands for the March Midway)

I walked past the last game in the midway, and there was a rough-looking older woman, holding a bunch of short, wooden fishing rods, with small black metal squares on the ends.  There was a round aluminum tub of water on the ground, and floating along the surface of the water were dozens of little yellow plastic ducks, and they each had ‘S’, ‘M’ or ‘L’, marked on their heads in black marker – small, medium and large I guessed.  I must have been staring too long at the tub of ducks because she called out at me to come and play.  She said everyone is a winner.  Not to be tricked again, I asked her what the prizes were, and she showed me.  She didn’t have huge stuffed animals, but it was only fifty cents to play, and you could fish in the tub until you caught a duck.

fishing game

I dug into my pocket, and pulled out two quarters, gave them to her, and she handed me a fishing rod.  By this time, after watching other folks play for a few minutes, I had figured out that the heavy black square on the end of the rod was a magnet, and that each of the yellow plastic ducks must have a magnet inside so they would stick to the line.  I looked down into the tub, and I could see that there were about forty or fifty ducks marked with an ‘S’, maybe ten marked with a ‘M’ and there were only three that I could see marked with an ‘L’.   I took my time, and positioned my rod right over one of the ‘L’ ducks and plunged it into the water.  Wouldn’t you know it, just my luck, the magnet had stuck to a duck with an ‘S’, the lady pulled it out of the tub, and handed me a prize.  It was a 45 rpm record in a paper sleeve.  I thanked her, and looked at the label.  It was the Shirelles’ song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”  Hmmm.  Well, the record was a few years old, but we had a record player at home, and some plastic adapters to play 45s, so this didn’t seem like such a bad prize after all.  Not bad for fifty cents!

The late August sun was working its way up into the sky, and I thought it must be close to noon.  I was starting to feel hot, and decided to head up to the buildings, and cool off inside.  The exhibit halls at the Perth Fair were grey metal arched buildings, with straight walls, and rounded roofs.  One of the buildings was known as the Commerce building, and it had lots of different vendors selling their products and services.  The other building was the Homemaking building, and this is where you could find exhibits of sewing and fancy work, vegetables, flowers, canned goods, maple products, and of course home baking.  It’s also where you could find our Mother!

Home Baking

As I walked closer to the building, there were two tables set up, right outside of the entrance.  One person was raffling off a quilt made by Mrs. Bert Frizzell, and the other was selling tickets for the annual draw to win a baby beef. Sure enough, as I approached the main door, I spotted Mother, standing along one of the baking counters, talking to Evelyn Bothwell, and Margaret Campbell.  Mrs. Willard Shaw and Mrs. Archie Ferguson were working at the next counter, arranging some of the craft displays.  The ladies all nodded and smiled at me, knowing that I was one of Mother’s ‘helpers’, responsible for carrying her baking in to the building each year, the evening before the judging took place.  I usually had a meringue pie on my lap, in the car, on the way into Perth, and there were countless trays of muffins, loaves, cakes, pies, cookies, bread, rolls and biscuits to carry, carefully, into the building each year.  Along with all of those tasty treats, she would also enter photography, flowers, vegetables and sewing, but it was the home baking competition where her talents shone.

maple syrup and honey display

Mother spotted me, smiled excitedly, and waved me over to the counter.  “Your Mother won the most points in the baking category again!” Mrs. Bothwell exclaimed, and the ladies pointed out all of the red ribbons and tags, behind the glass counter.  Mother beamed, and said that Mrs. Bell from Balderson had come very close to beating her, and that she’d have to stay sharp for next year!

prize ribbons     most points in baking 1965

There were also many other folks who won prizes at the Fair that year as well.  There was a gate prize each year, and the ticket number would be drawn, called out, and the winner received ten pounds of Balderson Cheese.  Now who wouldn’t want that!  They estimated that the crowd that year was around 15,000 and I’m not sure who won the gate prize, but someone went home that night with a big slab of the best cheese in the county.

mammoth cheese

One of the most popular events was the harness racing, and the winner was Eddie Norris of Perth. There was also a Tractor Rodeo – contestants had to drive tractors through an obstacle course pulling wagons and manure spreaders.  In the 14-18 yrs. division some of our local lads had a good showing.  Bill Poole came 1st, Allan Lowry was 2nd, and Brian Miller of Drummond Centre came 3rd.  In the 19 yrs. and over division Mervin Conboy of Maberly took first place, with Jack James from Middleville taking 2nd, and our neighbour from the Third Line, Wayne Conboy taking 3rd.

Donald Hossie, another neighbour, was the top winner in the seed and grain competition, and Mrs. Robert Moodie won the Sewing and Fancy work class with no less than 23 firsts! Mrs. John Auchterlonie, also from the Third Line, took top honours for her vegetables and fruits, and Mrs. Isobel Kent came first in the Flower competition.

flowers Perth Fair

giant pumpkin

Ray Poole was the winner of the best bale of first cut hay, and our neighbour, John Miller of Glen Tay, won for the best dairy cattle.  John’s sister Ruth Miller, won for the best senior calf.  Other winners from the Third Line included Paul, Dale and Jane Brady, winners for their 4H dairy cattle entries. In some of the other 4H competitions local lads Alfred Bowes and Brian Miller, John Miller, and Linda Bell of Balderson were winners.

showing calf      4H logo

Everyone enjoyed the light and heavy Horse Shows and the livestock competitions.  That was the first year that Charolais cattle were introduced into the mix, and so it was quite special to see them in the arena.

Horse and Charlolais at the Fair

showing calf # 2

showing at the Fair # 3

My good friends came to the fairgrounds that Saturday afternoon, and we had a wonderful time, riding the Scrambler, and the Tilt-a-Whirl, screaming, laughing, and then feeling dizzy on our walk back down the ramp, at the end of the ride.  We were all a little nervous about riding The Bullet, because while one of the two cars was right side-up, the opposite car was up-side-down.  We stood there quite a while watching other people riding, and screaming, and laughing, before we got up enough nerve to try it out ourselves.  I didn’t really like being upside-down, and some of my change fell out of my pocket, onto the ground below.  Luckily, one of our neighbours Linda Brady saw it fall, and she stood there and waited, until the ride was finished, and hung onto my change for me.

bullet ride

As always, the Grandstand shows at the Perth Fair were great entertainment for people of all ages!  Beautiful late summer evenings, clear skies, all the rides lit up, the scents of delicious food in the air, and wonderful live music, made those nights magical!

grandstand 2

grandstand

bandstand 3 edit

Everyone always came out to see the famous Trans Canada Hell Drivers!

Hell Drivers 1969Hell Driver clown

Hell Drivers at the Fair

Along with the Grandstand entertainment, one of the highlights of the Fair that year, was the Old Time Fiddlers competition on Sunday, and the musically-gifted Dawson Girdwood walked away with the top prize. Barb Closs from Lanark came second in the step-dancing competition, although we thought she should have come first, she was such a talented performer.  Watching the fiddling and step-dancing was a memorable finish to the Labour Day weekend.

Dawson Girdwood

Dawson Girdwood

The last night of the Fair, as always, was bittersweet.  We knew that it was almost over for another year.  I walked through the midway one more time, all the way to the Lion’s Hall.  The ladies in the Lioness Booth were packing up their big jars of mustard and relish, and some of the nearby vendors were starting to clean their food carts, and take them apart.

midway 4

Some diehard fans of the Fair were still playing games; taking a last spin at the Crown and Anchor wheel, or throwing one last pitch at Skeet ball, not wanting the fun to end.  Although it was getting late, there were still a handful of people on the rides laughing and screaming. The good-natured folks running the rides didn’t seem to mind and they gave these last few stragglers extra long rides.

As I walked back up through the midway, I took one last look behind me, as if I wanted to freeze the moment in my memory, then I reluctantly climbed into the car.  Dad started up the engine, and drove through the side entrance, onto Cockburn Street.

It was a wonderful fair!  I sat in the back seat of the car, tired from the busy weekend, as Mother chatted excitedly to Dad, already planning her exhibits for next year’s fair.

kids driving away

School would be starting soon, and the days would grow cooler, and the sun wouldn’t feel quite as strong as it did for the Fair.  In the weeks to come we’d bring our jackets down from the attic, and spend our evenings doing homework, instead of riding our bikes up and down the Third Line. As the daylight hours dwindled down we’d begin to see the onset of nature’s paintbrush, and its random strokes of yellow and orange, dotted across the maple trees in our yard. This would be our last taste of summer for a long while, and what could possibly be a more fitting way to finish off the season, than a glorious sunny weekend spent at the Perth Fair!

…………

Perth Fair 1963

…………

 

This story is an excerpt from:

Memories of Home Drummond North Elmsley

The story ‘A Day at the Fair’, first published in
“Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”   ISBN 978-0-9877026-30
some photos from: ‘Perth Remembered’, and from ‘Perth Fair’
L C Calendar book cover

http://www.staffordwilson.com

 

Maple Trailblazers: Founding Families of Lanark County’s Maple Legacy

maple syrup capital

Did you know that the very first Festival of the Maples was held in Perth, Ontario back in the 1970s?

The story that follows is dedicated to the Lanark County families who played such a significant role, back in the early days, leading up to this annual festival in Perth: Andrew and George Korry, Bowes family of Glen Tay, Ernie and Evelyn Miller family of Glen Tay, Robert McEwen of Prestonvale, Ken VanAlstine of Maberly, Leonard and Tom Adam of McDonald’s Corners, Brien and Marion Paul west of Hopetown, Lanark, James ‘Carman’ and Edna Gibson of Dalhousie Township, Don and Marion Dodds of Clayton, George Coutts of Rideau Ferry, Wheeler family of McDonald’s Corners, and Fulton family of Pakenham to name a few.

Taffy on the Tay

Years ago, many of the local farmers produced maple syrup. Some made just enough for their families, and for others it was a supplement to their farm income, at a time of year that was less busy, than during the summer months. There were also a few dealers in the area that sold sugar bush supplies – Max Miller of Snow Road, Percy Drysdale of McDonald’s Corners, and W.J. Ballantyne in Lanark. James Brothers Hardware and the Co-Op in the town of Perth also sold supplies for maple production. Labels for the bottles were often printed by ‘The Perth Courier’.

James Brothers edit

The Korry family farm was located across the road from our farm.  They owned a medium sized sugar bush, and produced enough syrup to sell locally. Andrew Korry’s son-in-law John Chaplin sold it through his business – Chaplin’s Dairy, door to door, to their customers on the milk routes. Andrew and his son George were very busy for several weeks each spring making syrup, and my brother Tim Stafford worked with them in the bush one season. Extra help was always welcome. They used a team of horses, with a tank mounted on the sleigh, to draw the sap back to the evaporator, at the sugar shack; typical of many other producers at that time.

maple-sap-collocting

The Bowes and the Miller families of Glen Tay also produced their own syrup. I recall  that Art Bowes used to tap quite a number of trees in the mid-sixties. Their land was known as Tayview farm, and it straddled the Tay River -a beautiful setting. At that time they had about 300 acres including hay fields, pastures, and of course maple bushes. Art’s son Doug traveled along with us on our school bus each day in the 1960s, and he often spoke about helping his Dad back in the bush each spring.

Art Bowes maple

spile

The Miller family’s farm, known as Tayside was owned by Ernest ‘Ernie’ Miller and his wife Evelyn (Mather). The Miller family arrived from Scotland in 1809, and their farm was purchased by Ernie’s great grandfather Dodds in 1858. Their kids were Diane, Nancy, John and Ruth. Evelyn was a lovely, soft-spoken lady, and she was my first 4H club leader. I also recall that Ernie was tapping about 1,500 trees back in the sixties, and had about 30 acres of maple woods. Ernie was a forward thinker, and one of his ideas at that time was that sap should be gathered by trucks from each farm, and taken to a large central evaporator – similar to the way that milk was trucked to cheese factories. It seemed through the years that Ernie was into everything. When he wasn’t farming he wrote history books, he researched genealogy, he worked with young people, and it was no surprise to me when he was inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2003.

Ernie Miller

Ernest Miller – Photo by Malak for Cover of Family Herald in support of War Bonds. Photo courtesy of Diane (Miller) Duncan.

The McEwen clan in Ferguson Falls was another family who made their mark in the maple syrup business back in the 60s. In 1966 Robert McEwen of Prestonvale opened up the first pancake house in the area. Originally, Robert made his syrup the old fashioned way, out in the bush, and boiled a cauldron of sap over the fire. Later, in the 1970s I remember that he was one of the first to use plastic pipelines to bring the sap from the trees to one main location. Our Dad knew the McEwen family well, having grown up in that area, and said that Robert often spoke of the difficulties involved in syrup production. It was difficult to find reliable labour, and also challenging was finding the capital to purchase new equipment. Robert was very active in the local industry, and at one time was the President of the Lanark and District Maple Syrup Association.

When the former McEwen Sugar Shack went up for sale, Charles Temple and his wife Susan Snyder bought the property –  the very first day it was on the market.  The property known now as Temple’s Sugar Bush consists of 70 acres of maple bush where 5,000 trees are tapped annually.

Temples

Temple’s Sugar Bush on the site of the former McEwen’s Sugar Shack, Ferguson Falls

…..

Ken VanAlstine in Maberly tapped over 2,000 trees when I was a kid, and he was among the first to use pipelines. He experimented at first, and tapped just 200 trees using the pipeline system, but the rest was collected in buckets, the traditional way, and transported to the evaporator by horse and sleigh.

Horse and Sleigh maple bush

Ken, like other producers in the area, found the cost of hiring labour prohibitive, and found that distributors wanted too much money per gallon. Ken was well known in the area for his excellent quality maple syrup, and said on his best day at that time he gathered 3,300 gallons of sap.

Vanalstine maple syrup

…..

The Ennis family also has a long history of maple production. Their ancestor  Arthur Ennis came from County Cavan, Ireland to Lanark County in 1840, and the family has been producing maple syrup for almost a century.  Their sugar bush is located on the eastern shores of Bennett Lake, at the end of Ennis Road, Balderson,  in Lanark County.   Five generations of the Ennis family have been tapping trees on this property.

Ennis maple

George and Karen Ennis  –   photo –  Ennis Maple Products

Another local family of long-time maple producers is the Adam family of McDonald’s Corners. Leonard Adam and his brother Tom tapped an average of 2,250 trees, and owned about 500 acres of land between them. They were hard workers, and spent many days sawing, chopping, and stacking the 20 cords of wood required for their evaporator.  The Adam family were one of the first to use a brand new style of evaporator which was 4 by 14 feet. They produced enough to sell locally, and the remainder was shipped out West.

Adam article maple

Adam family of McDonald’s Corners  –  ‘The Perth Courier’ – Nov. 28, 1963

maple syrup jug

Brien and Marion (McLaren) Paul of R.R #3 Lanark owned a 575 acre farm, about three miles west of Hopetown, and began maple production in 1953. Marion was raised on a farm near the village of Lanark, was known locally as the ‘First Lady of Maple’, and served proudly as a Maple Judge at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. Their kids Kathy, Wayne and Darrell were also very involved in maple production, and provided additional labour for the family business. In 1972 Kathy was crowned Maple Queen in the local competition.

Back in the 1960s the Paul family used two sleighs, one pulled by a tractor, and the other by a team of horses. Brien’s father Raymond Paul often tended the evaporator, keeping a watchful eye as the sweet, fragrant, steam boiled off into the air. Russell Foster and Raymond Watt often assisted the Paul family with their  production. They tapped an average of 4,000 trees at that time, produced about 700 gallons of syrup, and used approximately 30 cords of wood during the season.

Paul's maple prices rise

‘The Perth Courier’ – March 21, 1971

The Paul’s were pioneers in the maple industry, and were very modern in their approach. They were one of the first to install plastic tubing, and an oil fired evaporator. The plastic pipes were attached to the tree spiles, and the sap flowed through the pipes, and emptied into a storage reservoir located behind the evaporator. Brien and Marion were inducted into the International Maple Hall of Fame, and were proud members of the Ontario Maple Producers and the Lanark and District Maple Producers Association.

Paul's maple

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Gibson was a name known for their excellent syrup. James ‘Carman’ Gibson, and his wife Edna (Rodger) had a maple business in Dalhousie Twp at R.R. # 4, Lanark. The nearby areas of Hoods and Poland were well known for their fine quality maple syrup. The Gibson family began tapping trees in 1821 with the arrival of James Gibson from Lanark, Scotland. He was the first pioneer settler in the area, and named their new home Lammermoor after the Lammermoor Hills in Scotland. Their five children Verna, Beatrice, Norma, Carol and Earl helped with the operation. The Gibson family also raised beef, dairy on their busy farm, and hauled milk to the Middleville cheese factory.

…..

When locals think of a long running maple operation, the name Dodds comes to mind. They had a substantial sugar bush at R.R. 2 Clayton, in the Lanark Highlands. The Dodds family has owned Springdale Farm for generations, producing maple syrup since 1917, and Don and Marion Dodds, and their sons Bryan and Stephen helped with production through the years. The family has won many awards for being long term maple producers, and Stephen Dodds won the Grand Champion Trophy at Perth Festival of the Maples in 2011. Their long, long, list of awards include trophies for World Champion Maple Syrup, Sugar Maker of the Year, and a memorable meeting with HRH Prince Charles at the Royal Winter Fair.

Dodds family

Dodds family – Don, Marion and Stephen Dodds

…..

One of the maple syrup families that I remember fondly was the Coutts family on the Rideau Ferry Road. I’ll never forget how George Coutts invited local kids to visit his sugar shack.  He would take the time during the very busy season to patiently explain how the maple syrup was made. Miss Norma Devlin from the North Elmsley School was invited each year to bring her grade one class to visit the Coutts farm. George along with his son Kenneth showed the children how syrup was made and even provided the kids with some maple taffy at the end of the tour.

Coutts student tours

In the 1960s the Coutts family tapped about 1,300 trees yearly, and produced more than enough syrup for both the family and for area sales. Maple syrup was produced in the early 1900’s by Archibald Coutts. In 1920, George Coutts purchased an evaporator, and the production of maple syrup has continued ever since.

coutts country flavours

Coutts Country Flavours – 5th generation maple producers

The ancestors of the Fulton family began to tap their maple trees back in the 1840s when John Fulton and his brothers came to Lanark County from East Kilbride, Scotland.  Their large 370 acre farm is located between Almonte and Pakenham, and they have tapped their huge 4,000 tree sugar bush for many, many, generations. Well known for their high quality syrup they have also operated a pancake house for many years, and their sugar camp has been a popular attraction for both area families and visitors.

Shirley Deugo and Scott Deugo of Fulton's

Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush –
Shirley Fulton-Deugo 4th generation, and Scott Deugo 5th generation maple producer

With these, and other long-time maple producers in Lanark County, it’s not surprising that back in the 1970s, there were lots of conversations, up and down the concessions, of hosting a maple festival in the town of Perth. It was Victor ‘Vic’ Lemieux, owner of Norvic Lodge, at Christie Lake, who first came up with the idea, and presented it to the Perth Chamber of Commerce. Thankfully, Vic was successful in his campaign to launch the first festival, with the hope that it would bring people out to celebrate the spring season, after a long, cold, winter.

First festival of the Maples 1975

On April 19, 1975 the very first Festival of the Maples was held in Perth and it was quite an event!

When my friends and I arrived at the very first Maple Festival that Saturday so long ago, part of Gore Street and Foster Street had been closed to traffic, and many local maple vendors had set up their displays. At 10 a.m. the Festival was officially opened by the Ontario Minister of Industry – Claude Bennett. The Perth Legion ladies, and the ladies from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church had displays of delicious home baking for sale, and there were also side-walk sales on Gore Street, and many arts and craft exhibits.

There were a tremendous number of district producers, and many of them offered syrup for sale in different grades, and various sized containers. Pancakes were available for purchase, and free samples of Balderson Cheese were available to anyone who asked, and I recall we went back a couple of times to that booth! One of the most unique displays was a wood-burning evaporator set up on one of the main streets of Perth. I’ve seen a few of those out in the bush, but I never thought I’d see one in town on the main street!

Fiddling and step-dancing competitions were held that day, and I recall Dawson Girdwood saying that some of the best fiddlers from Eastern Ontario were competing in the Open and Junior fiddling classes. The talented Jimmy Heney, one of our neighbours, won the fiddling prize hands down, as he often did, and Karen Grey of Perth was the top step-dancer that night.

The folks in Perth were always  enthusiastic supporters of a beauty competition, and so part of the evening program, at the arena that night ,was the crowning of ‘The Sweetest Girl in Lanark County’. Miss Perth 1975 Michelle Hughes crowned the winner – Maple Queen – Susan Thompson, of Perth.

Over the years, we attended the Perth Maple Festival, and each spring it seemed to grow by leaps and bounds. Every year it seemed that there were more vendors selling their maple goods, more artisans displaying their crafts, and an increasing number of booths and displays. We also noticed a steady stream of tourists coming from Ottawa, Kingston, and even as far away as the States to visit our festival.

festival of the maples crowd

People in Lanark County, understandably, have always taken their maple syrup very seriously. Because of this, it was devastating to many when January of 1998 brought the most destructive ice storm in Canadian history. From January 4th to 10th Lanark County was severely affected by freezing rain, and ice pellets.   Day after day it fell, and accumulated on tree branches, bending their limbs until they snapped off with the weight of the ice. The relentless freezing rain created a thick, heavy coat, damaging both the maple trees and the pipelines in the sugar bushes. Millions of tree branches were caked with the build-up of ice, and became so heavy that they split right off of the trees; severely affecting the sap flow. At the time, there were speculations that it might take forty years for maple production to return to normal.

Through hard work, and good fortune, many of the damaged trees came back, and the maple production resumed within a few years of the ice storm.

ice storm 1998

Many of us, raised in Lanark County, have participated in making maple syrup at one time or another, and know from experience that it’s extremely labour-intensive. We also have a clear understanding of the enormous amount of sap it takes to make a very small quantity of syrup. No matter how modern the equipment or methods, it still takes forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

40 gallons of sap

Now, add in the hours of labour for the tapping, transporting from the tree to the evaporator, the boiling down, the straining, the bottling, and the labeling. Next, factor in the cost of equipment such as the spiles, the pails or tubing, the evaporation tank, fuel, the straining equipment, the bottles, cans, and cost of transporting to market. The price per gallon really doesn’t sound like all that much anymore now, does it?

So, the next time you pass by the maple syrup display in your grocery store aisles, or visit a maple vendor at his farm, or at a festival, please remember how it’s produced.

Pause a moment, to remember the proud, hard-working, pioneer families who settled in Lanark County, and passed down their knowledge through the generations. Think of the enormous quantity of sap required to make a very small container of syrup. Most of all, please stop and consider the origin of your syrup, and take it from this Lanark County kid – you won’t find any better, more flavourful syrup, than from the Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario!

…………..

 

(an excerpt from “Lanark County Chronicle: Double-Back to the Third LineLanark County Chronicle)
ISBN 978-0-9877026-2-3

http://www.staffordwilson.com