The spring tradition of going to the sugar shack during maple syrup season in Alvinston won’t be the same this year.
For decades, families have gone to the A.W. Campbell Conservation Area each spring to see how maple syrup has been made – from its earliest origins with the First Nations people, to settlers and modern day farmers – in a sugar shack which has stood on the grounds for as long as anyone can remember.
But the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority says that shack can’t be used anymore. It is structurally unsafe and has been condemned.
Brooke-Alvinston Councillor Frank Nemcek is a member of the authority’s board. The conservation authority knew renovations were necessary to the shack, but when a thorough inspection was completed, there were all sorts of problems. “The beams are rotting and the foundation is cracked,” he says. And the chimney to the evaporator was in need of more than $20,000 of repairs.
St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold, the chair of the conservation authority and a member of the group’s foundations, says they couldn’t allow people to go into the building anymore.
Nemchek was upset with the news. “When I was a kid, going out there with the Brooke Central School was a big thing,” he says.
Until the 1990s, the entire Alvinston Maple Syrup Festival was held at the conservation area drawing thousands to the park. After the water tragedy at Walkerton, the province cracked down on what water could be used at public events and the majority of the festival was moved to the Brooke-Alvinston-Arena. But the conservation authority continued to tell the story of maple syrup at the site, drawing hundreds of people each year. Nemchek feared that would be lost when the conservation authority voted to tear the building down and it appeared the foundation board was not going to provide the cash to rebuild it. “It’s just one more nail in the coffin,” he says. “I’m pretty upset about it.”
But Arnold says foundation board members took a closer look and decided they have to do something to preserve that agricultural history. “The original motion was to remove it and not bother replacing it because the local firemen (who run the maple syrup festival) would continue to do their thing,” he says. “But there were enough of us on the foundation that wanted that historical foundation to stay.”
Arnold says the foundation is now looking into rebuilding the sugar shack. “I feel very strongly we need to maintain that historical aspect of maple syrup making,” says Arnold. “And the foundation has money set aside that they maintain for that sort of thing.
“It’s so important to maintain it…otherwise there is that loss and connection to our roots and to the land itself. We need to maintain that.
“And we have to have that certain respect for the First Nations heritage that we all share. No one else is maintaining that locally, and I think that is important for us to maintain.”
Building a new sugar shack will likely take time; Arnold says the foundation is only beginning to look at ideas for a replacement.
Conservation authority officials say there will still be displays at the conservation area highlighting the history of maple syrup production at A.W. Campbell Conservation Area during the festival March 18 to 20.