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Saugeen River's watershed in Bruce County has been party to maple syrup
and sugar making for centuries. The First Nations Indians were the first
to tap trees to turn sweet water into sugar. Hearty Scots and Irish
immigrants followed during the early nineteenth century. They built
on the heights, tilled the fertile soil and kept a portion of their
land forested so that both wood and food product could be harvested.
Each spring mature maples were tapped and the sweet sap was boiled into
syrup or further refined into maple sugar. Today the ritual continues
with Maple Madness Spring Festival held at Saugeen Bluffs Conservation
Area on the first weekend in April each year.
are lots of festivals themed around maple syrup in Ontario but none
as creatively put together as Maple Madness. Saugeen Bluffs is excellent
for the annual event, located as it is in a natural bowl at the bottom
of high hills, just outside the small town of Paisley on the beautiful
Bruce County waterway. The Saugeen runs through a pretty wooded valley
while surrounding hills are covered with mature maple, pine and oak
trees. With high bluffs on both sides of the river it's natural that
the area experiences spring flooding periodically. When attending the
festival, be sure to enjoy a stroll through the lower level of the park
and watch for signs on trees near the river that indicate previous high
of the festival's location, it's a good idea to leave your car in one
of the designated parking lots in Paisley and take a shuttle bus to
the site. Parking areas are well signed and busses run a continuous
loop. On Maple Madness weekend, there is roadside parking outside the
gate at the top of the bluffs. Remember though that activities take
place in a historic sugar bush down by the river. When you realize that
who hikes down into the valley, must walk back up again, it's best to
take a vehicle that drops you off in the middle of the action. While
on the bus a reasonable admission to the festival is collected after
which a passport is handed out listing participants and special interest
areas. It's fun to pick up free goodies while getting your passport
stamped at these locations.
arriving, one of the first things you should do is hitch a ride on the
horse-drawn wagon that tours around the conservation area. This fun
ride will give you a good idea of the lay-of-the-land and where festival
displays are set up. For a great view over the river valley and hills
on the opposite side, tell the driver you'd like to get off at the trail-
head that leads to the top of the bluffs. The hike, with its many stairs,
is a great way to work up a hearty appetite for pancakes and maple syrup.
A visit to river's edge is also a must-do for a look at the watery highway
that has been used for centuries by peoples who inhabited the inland
forests of the Huron shores. If hills could only speak!
all this hiking, you'll need a hearty meal. Throughout the day generous
servings of hot-off-the-grill pancakes, large locally made pork sausage
and maple syrup are served from the Pancake House at very reasonable
prices. This delicious and filling meal is consumed while listening
to the music of local entertainers such as Ian Leith's fantastic fiddle
playing, Mildmay's well-known Express Band and the Red Rascal Band from
Hanover. The music is so toe-tapping, its not unusual for folks to spontaneously
enjoy a dance or two. If you look like you're having fun, don't be surprised
if you're invited onto the dance floor for a round or two by a total
stranger. Folks sure know how to enjoy themselves in Saugeen River country.
keeping with the maple theme, four unique demonstrations provide a first-hand
look at the production of syrup from early times to the present. In
addition a functional modern sugar shanty boils sap throughout the weekend.
Ask lots of questions. Did you know that a maple tree should to be forty
years old before being tapped? Taste sap before it's boiled into syrup.
I dare you to smell that sweet water boiling and not purchase some syrup,
candy or other maple products. Pick up some great maple syrup recipes
while at the sugar shanty. For good luck, hug the huge ancient maple
with its array of buckets and spiles.
of the things that sets the Saugeen Bluffs salute to maple syrup apart
is the presentation of authentic pioneer and fur trading encampments.
Plan to spend several hours in the historical and outdoor exhibits area
where Bruce County Trappers & Crappers and the South Bruce Buckskinners
set up pioneer camps and demonstrate old-time activities along the park's
winding wooded roads. Costumed participants ply their various trades
while answering questions about their portrayal of long-ago pioneers,
fur trappers and First Nations peoples. Volunteer reenactor's are so
enthusiastic they camp on-site throughout the weekend, practicing pioneer
traditions for the enjoyment of festival visitors. Featured are displays
pertaining to bush survival, blacksmithing, shingle making, canoe making.
You can watch period buckskin clothing being made or catch one of the
archery and black powder demonstrations. Open-fire and iron-pot cooking,
sheep-shearing and weaving in a wilderness setting are popular as is
an old-fashioned medicine show. The Historical Area includes a display
on antique farm equipment and a number of retail vendors selling in-theme
In the Forestry Service area a number of groups have displays on conservation of trees, wildlife, plants and birds. Many such as the Ontario Forestry Association, give out handouts pertaining to their special interests that are relevant to both adults and children.
As the Saugeen River boasts excellent fishing, it's only natural that fly fishing demonstrations are popular. Kids activities include an activity tent, festival games- Sunday only, Tiny Tot Rides and live entertainment. Adults aren't forgotten. You can enter various contests such as cross-cut sawing and pancake eating. And the prizes? Maple Syrup, of course. In-theme displays and crafts are also found in Sutherland Centre which usually houses administrative offices.
Maple Madness Spring Festival is very much a community event and an easy-going country affair. Visitors are expected to have a relaxing time be it chatting up a local, singing along with band or enjoying an impromptu dance. Don't rush your visit. Wear good hiking boots and a warm jacket. April weather can be unpredictable. Bring your camera. Some great picture taking opportunities present themselves at this event.
On your way to and from Maple Madness, spend some time in the small town of Paisley on the Saugeen. The town is known for its heritage architecture, canoeing and kayaking on the river. Leave time for supper at the historic Dunkeld, a c1868 fieldstone inn on Bruce Road #3 about five miles south of Paisley. The Inn's ambience is all about pleasant surroundings and great food. Try their Saturday evening buffet
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