More than Maple Syrup: How 3 Lanark County Families transformed their business into an experience
Each morning, when we make our kids’ breakfast, there’s one necessary element that must be poured onto their plates: maple syrup.
My two-year-old daughter, in anticipation, puts her face as close to the plate as possible as she witnesses the liquid gold make an impressive puddle amidst the waffles. She’s officially obsessed. I can only assume that, one day, she’ll ask to pour it on her spaghetti à la Buddy the Elf.
While it’s fun to create our morning rituals with maple syrup, we know there is a story behind each bottle that’s capped. It has a long way to come before our morning rituals, flowing out of the trees, boiled to the perfect consistency, and bottled with care, before we pour it out and get to enjoy the sugary sweetness. Known as the Maple Syrup Capital of Eastern Ontario, Lanark County has some generations-long maple syrup producers championing the product.
Even better? While these producers have tapped the trees to produce the syrup, they’ve also taken the opportunity to better showcase their land, their business and the why behind what they do. They’re more than maple syrup. Each of the following three Lanark County maple syrup producers bring an element to the user experience that’ll have you discovering unique artifacts, trekking through snow trails, taste tasting on site, and creating some magical memories that go beyond the breakfast plate (or spaghetti bowl for that matter).
When Wheelers Maple was hit with the Ice Storm in 1998, they realized something: they had to push beyond the traditional business model. And so they did. And they did it really well. They opened their doors in McDonalds Corners to the public in order to give visitors a taste test of life in the sugar bush. Guests can discover the forest with the walking trails, uncover history in the museums, and put their tastebuds to work inside the gorgeous log cabin restaurant – with all that, Wheelers is definitely more than just maple syrup.
And though their busiest time is in late winter and early spring, family member Mark Wheeler says they get a steady flow of visitors throughout the year, especially since they’re open 365 days a year.
“We’re so close to Ottawa and the 401 corridor that we’re a good place to get off the beaten track and experience the Canadian outdoors,” says Mark, adding that they get a range of visitors including families, retirees and young couples from across the province and around the world. A highlight for Mark is when he meets a visitor in the sugar bush who has come from the city, and it’s the first time they’ve ever experienced complete silence (photo Wheelers/Facebook).
Go for: The History Lesson. Wheelers holds the Guinness Book of World Records for most chainsaws. Yup, they have a museum for that!
When you visit a seventh-generation farm, there will be stories to uncover. Lot of them. So when you arrive at Thompsontown Maple Products in Clayton, you can hear that history while discovering the 400-acre farm where the award-winning maple syrup is produced each spring.
Thompsontown Maple Products has that cozy, welcoming feel where you’ll really connect with the owners in an authentic way. And that’s exactly what they want to give to you.
Co-owner Ray Thompson says they strive to offer visitors an off-the-beaten-path experience.
“Our experience is self-guided, but not in a place where you’ll feel you’re just part of a crowd,” he explains.
You can explore the wooded trails. Sit by the campfire. Sample some maple taffy. All while feeding your innate curiosity about maple syrup production and the people who make it.
“People are so interested in the family farm and our history, and we get to tell our story,” says Ray.
Today, Thompsontown Maple Products is a 6,000 tap maple syrup, family-owned operation offering maple syrup, sugar and butter. While their products are sold in 15 locations across the region, their home base at Clayton Lake has much more than the liquid gold.
“Not only do we have a maple operation on our family farm we also have a campground/cottage rental business (Thompson’s Black Rock Park) on the shore of Clayton Lake and a small herd of Angus,” explains Ray. “They all complement to each other in many ways.”
Ray says visitors will come in the late winter and spring for their maple syrup yet their summertime visitors will explore their sugar bush trails while vacationing at their campsite. They have 80 seasonal campsites and 6 furnished cottages, making it the perfect place to explore on a day trip or making it a weekend away.
Go for: The self-guided, three-season experience. Stay for a long weekend and discover the nature trails followed by a dip in Clayton Lake.
If you want a truly epic family experience, head to Fulton’s Pancake House & Sugar Bush in Pakenham. They’ve been in the maple syrup business long before Canada became a country and, as a result, they have a lot of pride in their story and in the family experience.
They’re well known for their Maple farm, which produces pure organic Ontario Maple Syrup as well as several gourmet maple products. But you’ll also have the chance to indulge in gourmet maple products when you wander through their gorgeous shop.
Each year, Fulton’s Pancake House & Sugar Bush runs the Winter Magic & Maple Harvest Season, which has special activities each weekend and on holidays, where you can Bundle up in the back of a horse-drawn sleigh, embrace your inner child while getting your face painted, and discover local lore around a campfire.
You’ll then want to stop in at the Pancake House for pancakes and unlimited maple syrup. In the off-season, they’re open Tuesdays and Thursdays or by appointment. Even if you visit Fulton’s outside their prime time, you’ll get an authentic experience discovering the wooded trails and sampling some stellar syrup.
Go For: The full family experience.
All three of these places have two things in common: they’re run by a family who care deeply about what they do, and you’ll create memorable experiences by exploring their land.
I am really happy to work with our sponsors, Lanark County Tourism Association and Ontario Highlands Tourism Association, to share this information with you! Learn more about the region on OHTO’s gorgeous Come Wander blog and stay connected with all things tourism with Lanark County Tourism.