Sweet fun at first maple syrup festival since the pandemic

Cara Gregory shows off the colour grading system used for maple syrup production at the annual Purple Woods Maple Syrup Festival. Gregory is a conservation educator with Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA). Photo credit: Madison Duchin

The Purple Woods Maple Syrup Festival wraps up tomorrow after its return for the first time in three years.

The festival runs each spring from March 10 to the April 1, allowing Oshawa locals and travellers from all over to taste sweet maple syrup made in the local sugarbush.

The event offers a variety of activities for all ages. Down in the sugarbush, members of the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA) explain the maple syrup production process.

On Saturdays, the Oshawa Museum visits with a variety of artifacts in tow. Old knitting tools, a pair of antique scissors and other old items are on display outside one of the festival’s cabins.

There are also pilgrim children’s games and self-guided sugarbush tours.

Each day of the festival has a different group of volunteers. Saturday, March 18 was the Toronto Wildlife Centre’s turn.

All donations went to the community group and they had a booth to speak with festival goers about their cause.

One of the volunteers brought her son and a friend along to help out. The pair were there for their high school community volunteer duty.

“It’s really busy right now, it’s kinda crazy trying to get to all these tables, especially with the long line, but it’s still fun,” said Kyler, one of the teen volunteers.

Many of the staff buzzing around the festival were temporary. High school students looking to fill their community hours and Toronto Wildlife Centre members helped out for the day.

But some staff like Cara Gregory stick around all year long. Gregory is a conservation educator with CLOCA and spends her festival days bundled up, explaining the syrup production process in the sugar shack.

Gregory showed off the syrup processing equipment standing behind her, excitedly explaining how the production process works.

“It has to get to 66 per cent sugar in order for it to be ready to be bottled,” she said, going over the process from tree to bottle.

She doesn’t just explain the process, she teaches year-round programs.

“We do curriculum-based, outdoor-ed, hands-on programming with the school groups,” Gregory said. They also host Scout groups and smaller-scale events monthly for the local community.

“I love being outdoors and also just teaching our youth about it and people in our community about what I’m already passionate about myself,” she said.

Gregory started last July, making her one of the newer employees.

Some like Robert Gilbank have been around since the festival started. Gilbank has been driving the festival’s horse-drawn carriage since 1976.

He continues coming back each year because he enjoys the horses and meeting new people with each carriage ride.

“I like it or I wouldn’t still be coming,” Gilbank said.

This year’s festival was the 46th annual. After the hiatus forced by the pandemic, Yvonne Storm, CLOCA’s special events coordinator was happy to see it going so well.

Halfway through the festival’s run more than 5,000 people had attended. Storm was especially proud of the lack of food waste despite the number of guests.

“With those many people, we’ve only created like one big bin of food waste which really speaks volumes to the quality of the pancakes,” she said.