A Visit from the Maple Man
“As Canadian as maple syrup” … it’s the gauge people use to measure a wealth of other Canadian type things against. Why? Because maple farming is a primarily Canadian practice, with Quebec being a hotspot for maple syrup production. As such, maple syrup has become closely affiliated with our heritage, including having the maple leaf serve as a national symbol.
Yet, here in New West, you’ll be hard pressed to find a maple farm or a maple farmer.
And so enters the Maple Man: René Turmel. Turmel is a third-generation maple farmer, who currently operates a maple farm in Quebec. Last week, in partnership with support from our local chapter of Canadian Parents for French, he visited École Herbert Spencer, École Qayqayt and École Lord Tweedsmuir as part of our Early French Immersion programming, and went to École Glenbrook Middle School, Fraser River Middle School and Queensborough Middle School for Core French. His presentation to students was entirely in French, introducing them to Quebecois maple farming and culture, conveniently aligned with Heritage Week (Feb 20th -26th).
The assembly at École Herbert Spencer started with the students walking in as Turmel played the accordion, filling the room with music and setting an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. The delightfully sweet smell of maple syrup swirled through the room, heightening all senses and building on that excitement.
Once the children were all seated, the Maple Man began by introducing himself, and his craft. He talked about the different ways that maple sap is harvested – tapping trees and filling buckets full of “sweet goodness” that will be boiled until it turns a caramel color. Along the way, he helped expand their vocabulary, providing his descriptions in French and pausing to explain more complex language where needed. The students asked tons of questions, about the process, his Cabane à Sucre (Sugar Shack), and even about his horse that is used while collecting the sap!
After sharing his family trade secrets and insights, Turmel then turned to talking more broadly about Quebecois culture. He passed around wooden spoons, teaching students how to play them as instruments. Kids squealed in excitement, following along enthusiastically, and filling the whole room with their own music.
But what is music without some dancing? In this case: traditional folk dancing. The students partnered up, twirling and do-si-doing as Turmel modeled each step for them.
Finally, to end off the assembly, students and staff each got to try the maple syrup they’d heard so much about. Turmel, alongside volunteers and staff, made maple taffy in front of the students, pouring hot maple syrup on to ice trays and then rolling it onto wooden sticks. The treat was a delicious end to a fun day of learning … with bright smiles as the students gobbled up their sweet reward.