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Exploring a Maple Sugar Shack in Quebec’s Ile d’Orleans

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Spring sunshine in Quebec brings sweet liquid gold, the world’s best maple syrup. As temperatures rise above freezing, the sap in maple trees begins to flow and the party begins at the Sugar Shack.

My wife and our two daughters were visiting Quebec City with me. We asked the concierge at Hilton Quebec, Louis, for his suggestions for things to do with our 12 and 13 year old daughters. He gave us directions to three traditional Maple Sugar Shacks (Cabanes a Sucre in French) on Ile d’Orleans. Quebec produces three quarters of the world’s maple syrup and the traditional product is a source of great pride.

Ile d’Orleans is only three miles from Quebec City along Route 440. The bridge to the island begins at Montmorency Falls, Quebec’s highest waterfall at 275 feet, fully 98 feet higher than Niagara Falls. Stop with the kids to ride the cable car and get a closer look at one of nature’s wonders.

French Canada’s Early Family History

Ile d’Orleans is about three times the size of Manhattan and sits on the St Lawrence River at the point where the river’s fresh water mixes with salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. It is the site of one of the first colonies of New France.

In the early 1600s, 300 families established roots.  By 1651, the Jesuits arrived to establish a mission to the Huron Indians.  My wife Michele’s ancestors were among the first 10 families and many other French Canadians also trace their family history to this island. If you have French Canadian ancestry, stop at Maison Drouin (4700 chemin Royal at Sainte Famille) to see a habitant’s house from 1730 and then search for your ancestors at the Maison de Nos Aieux (3907 chemin Royal at Sainte Famille).

Today’s community of 7,000 continues a rich agricultural tradition. Along the Royal Road that circles the island, there are numerous market stands with fresh fruits and vegetables. You can visit apple orchards with cider presses, vineyards with grapes or black currents, and microbreweries. Our first stop was the Chocolaterie de l’Ile d’Orleans, a must for the chocolate lovers in our family. Then it was on past 1700s era stone farm houses to a Sugar Shack.

Collecting maple sap in buckets (foreground) & with automated blue tubing (background)

Collecting maple sap in buckets (foreground) & with automated blue tubing (background).

Sugaring Off

The Erabliere Richard Boily is a traditional maple grove with 6,000 maple trees. As our host Nicole explained on our free tour, they tap each tree and then link them all with blue tubing. In the spring when temperatures rise above freezing, the sap begins to flow through the tubes to the bottom of the hill. At the end of each day, the “sweet water” containing 2% sugar is cooked for 3 1/2 hours as 50 gallons of sap are boiled down to one gallon of maple syrup. The sap is collected and distilled on the same day to ensure maximum quality. In the five week season in 2013, Nicole’s family collected 50,000 gallons of sap to produce 1,000 gallons of delectable maple syrup.

Maple sap is boiled for 3.5 hours to make maple syrup

Maple sap is boiled for 3 1/2 hours to make maple syrup.

Our girls enjoyed the walk through the maple grove and the tour of the distillation facilities. However, the trip highlight was trying the maple syrup and maple butter. When there is fresh snow, the syrup is poured onto clean snow where it freezes. The kids then roll a popsicle stick along to collect the maple taffy in the traditional Quebec treat, tire d’erable. Nicole is happy to sell you her maple syrup and related products in the Cabane a Sucre.

Sweet treats from Ile d'Orleans, Quebec

Sweet treats from Ile d’Orleans, Quebec.

If you have more time, try a traditional Quebecois meal of pea soup, ham, eggs, and desert prepared with a touch of maple syrup. Two other Cabanes a Sucre on l’Ile d’Orleans that offer lunch and dinner plus traditional entertainment are Le Relais des Pins and Cabane a Sucre l’En-Tailleur. Most operations are open from March through October. Our family enjoyed a sweet treat in a natural setting while learning at the same time. We hope that your family also enjoys exploring Quebec’s maple forests. For more information on Ile d’Orleans contact Ile d’Orleans Tourism.

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Our Hilton Mom Voyage team members live throughout the U.S. and have traveled by air and car all over the world with their families!

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