Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 6, 2021
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Sweet Spot

This Ontario sugar bush tour is an educational outing your kids will eat up

In March, nature is already, deceptively, awake. Long before plant stems push through clusters of leaves and pockets of soil, life is stirring within the trees. As air temperatures warm above freezing, sap starts to flow, providing stored sugars for leaf development, twig growth and new layers of wood. Although sap runs silently, coursing up and down each tree, in a woodlot you can hear it being tapped: the sound of sap hitting the bottom of the pails echoes among the trees like a spring symphony.

There are many maple syrup festivals in Ontario, but Apps' Mill in Brantford has a sugar bush trail that offers an educational component. Interpretive staff guide visitors to four areas along the trail, demonstrating past and present methods of maple-syrup production.

At the first stop, the First Nations area, guides explain how maple water was boiled down using heated rocks placed in hollowed out logs. Further along, on the edge of the forest, a cauldron hanging over a fire pit demonstrates the pioneer method. Sap oozes and rolls down long wooden spiles, dropping into wooden buckets. It's then collected and poured into the heated vat.

From this area, the trail crosses Whiteman's Creek and follows a former millrace leading to a wooden flour and grist mill. Built in 1846, the Apps' Mill was one of the first to export wheat overseas. Now inoperable, the mill comes alive during a tree-tapping demonstration. A guide drills a hole into a trunk and pounds in a metal spile, opening the way for sap to travel into the pail. Plastic tubing illustrates the modern pipeline system that uses gravity to move sap from various trees into one large communal bucket.

The end of this walk is the highlight of the trip: visitors return to the nature centre welcomed with pancakes, maple syrup, hot apple cider and coffee. Maple sugar, syrup and candies are also for sale.

Aside from demonstrations, guides discuss how to identify a maple tree, the ideal conditions to tap trees and the legend of how maple syrup was discovered. Among the maples being tapped at Apps' Mill are large trees that survived the logging era of the 1920s. The largest one, next to the mill, is almost a metre wide. The nature centre also has interesting displays filled with information on the area. Children can dig for dinosaur bones, pick out constellation patterns in a star booth or watch live animals and aquatic life on display.

After you've filled up on pancakes, continue along the main path past the mill to complete the Apps' Mill Nature Loop. The trail shadows the creek through the area's rolling hills, following a dike that used to hold back water for the mill pond. The trail leads onto Cleaver Side Road and returns along the higher banks of the creek.

As you walk through the maple forest, hushed by its stillness, remember that each tree is moving. The trees' lifeblood, sap delivers nutrients that eventually form buds to send this woodland into green. It's the silent breath of spring that awakens the forest, quietly flowing before the first leaf appears.

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