Meet the one-man army of maple syrup

Clancey Lavender, 67, sells his maple syrup at Durham College and Ontario Tech University. Here he's selling his wares at the Pickering Farmers' Market. Photo credit: Ryan Hahn

Clancey Lavender was introduced to syrup at the age of two – and says he still remembers the moment fondly.

He recalls his dad pouring the sweet syrup all over his pancakes.

That’s when his love affair with syrup started.

“It’s in my blood,” said Lavender.

Sixty-five years later the now 67-year-old still has his passion for syrup.

He often spends many hours on his property in a Pontypool forest during the winter months, but at this time of year, he has a different schedule.

He attends local events like the recent Farmers’ Market at Durham College and Ontario Tech University where he sells his syrup. He is also at other weekly farmers’ markets including Oshawa, Whitby and Pickering that keep him busy and selling.

After his first taste of syrup as a toddler, it didn’t take long for Lavender to get involved in collecting it.

When he was four, he helped with getting sap from the tree. Working with his father, he held the funnel as it collected sap. At that time each tree had its own individual pales that held the sap and would have to be manually emptied.

The production process has changed a lot since.

“I’m a one-man army,” he said. On his own, he maintains up to 2,200 trees all around his property in Pontypool. To be able to do it all on his own he had to make some upgrades.

The original boiler he used was heated by wood.

“Every eight or so minutes I had to add in a few stacks of wood,” he said. A small task perhaps, but it took away from his efficiency. Lavender went on to purchase a new boiler last fall, which cost $30,000.

“At the end of the day it may have been expensive, but it saves me a lot of time,” he said.

The new and improved “vaporizer” as he calls it, is heated by propane, so goodbye to the days of feeding it wood every eight minutes. This has sped up his process and allowed him to do it all on his own.

“I wish my father was here to see how efficient everything is now,” he said, as he gazed at the picture of his two daughters posing by a maple tree with his father.

Lavender worked at Oshawa’s Gen-Auto Shippers as a dispatch supervisor for 37 years before retiring in 2008. On the side, he harvested his syrup staying up till early hours into the morning collecting sap from the trees, then managing to get some sleep and show up to work the next day.

During his vacation time when he was working and now into his retirement, the days can be long, he said.

“Some of the days I’m out there for 22 hours of the day,” he said .

Lavender is proud to carry on a family legacy – started by his grandfather – that is now in its third generation.

“I have a passion for maple syrup,” he said.