Sweet success: B.C. First Nation launches commercial maple syrup venture
An Alberni Valley First Nation is tapping into what it hopes will become liquid gold.
The Hupacasath First Nation has been drawing sap from the many big leaf maple trees on its land and converting it into syrup.
It’s the first time a B.C. First Nation has processed maple syrup on a commercial scale, selling more than 1,000 bottles of finished product.
“We have a series of tubes that collect all of the sap from the maple trees, they’re tapped in along each tree,” said Jason Lion, Hupacasath’s manager of agriculture.
On the band’s land, 600 trees are connected by a thousand feet of tubing.
Sap from the big leaf maples is sucked downhill to a collection point, and finally boiled down in a gas-fired evaporator that turns it into the sticky, sweet substance.
“It boils it down 60 to one from sap to syrup, and that gives us a product that is 66 per cent sugar,” he said.
The system – modeled after technology used in Quebec and Ontario, Canada’s largest maple syrup producers – is a first for the West Coast
First Nation members say they believe it could grow into a multi-million dollar industry, and a sustainable one at that.
That’s because big leaf maples are an indigenous species often considered a nuisance in the forest industry – but the Hupacasath First Nation is giving them new value.
“What it means for the Hupacasath Nation is a sustainable venture that people can be proud of,” said Chief Councillor Steven Tattoosh.
As for the syrup’s taste, Tatoosh describes it as a “vanilla butterscotch” flavour.
“It’s a great flavour,” he said. “The best way to taste it is by closing your eyes.”
The First Nation envisions a burgeoning business in the next few years, tapping thousands of maple trees in the Alberni Valley.
As the season winds down this month, it remains to be seen just how much profit they can extract from the maple trees.
Those interested in Hupacasath First Nation's Kleekhoot Gold maple syrup can visit their website.
With a report from CTV Vancouver Island's Jessica Lepp