Maple Sugar Time (1941)

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Institution: Library and Archives Canada
Collection: Metropolitan Toronto Library Board fonds, 1987-0337

Other title: Le Temps des Sucres
Running time: 8m 14s
Source film:  16mm; color; sound
Year: 1941
Director: Stanley Hawes
Production: National Film Board of Canada; Northern Electric Recording (sound)
Camera: Michael Spencer
Editor: Donald Fraser
Music: Maurice Blackburn

As a news topic, maple syrup has undergone an odd resurgence in recent years. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers — a Canadian organization dedicated to controlling the province’s output and stabilizing its price — has been criticized in the press due to borderline-draconian treatment of producers it considers delinquents. The price stability has been correlated to increased syrup production in the northeast U.S., thereby decreasing Quebec’s market share over the past several years. Thieves were caught stealing $18 million worth of syrup from a federation warehouse between 2011 and 2012. Last we heard, Jason Segel — of Freaks & Geeks and The Muppets fame — is attached to star in the film about the sticky-sweet heist. You don’t see this sort of press attention for honey (unless it’s related to bee colony collapse disorder).

This 1941 short from the National Film Board of Canada and director Stanley Hawes provides a peek behind the curtain (or the door to the sugar shack, as it were) of maple syrup production in the Quebec woods of the St. Lawrence Valley. In comparison to the maple sugar harvests of the present day — which involve tube networks, vacuum extractors, and evaporators — the depiction here is simple and idyllic. As the snow begins to melt with the coming of spring, harvesters walk into the sugar bush armed with no more than a trusty canine, a sled full of buckets, and the tools of the trade. Hawes uses close-up shots to show holes for spouts being screwed into the trees as pleasant narration peppers random facts throughout detailed description of the process. Have you slogged through life totally ignorant about the drip rate of maple sap, especially with extraction methods available in the early 1940s? Wonder no more — on a good day, the old school method produces about 70 drops a minute. How did people figure out that tree sap could be used as a sweetener, anyways? The indigenous people of the early Americas showed them.


During the day, the harvester empties small buckets full of clear sap into much larger buckets. The sap is hauled back to the sugar shack and dumped into barrels. From there, the sap goes into a series of cauldrons where it thickens as it’s boiled over the course of many hours. The film then shows what I can only assume is called the “snowball test” — a harvester dips a snowball into a bubbling vat, where the syrup cools on the surface and hardens. He then peels off the layer of syrup and eats it. Success! The syrup, now amber in color, gets poured into wooden molds. Later on, the film shows a “sugaring off” party, where adolescent Quebecers gather for laughs and conversation over some delicious maple syrup snow cones.

Also known by its French title, Le Temps des Sucres, this is a tidy, production-oriented film that can be enjoyed in moderation.





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