Slowly, but surely, spring is on its way. Daylight saving time began last weekend, spring equinox is just around the corner, and with the warmer weather comes maple syrup season. Making maple syrup or “sugaring off” is one of Quebec’s oldest agricultural traditions. The maple sap has begun to flow, and producers around Montreal are tapping the trees, collecting gallons of sap to be boiled down into maple syrup. It’s time to head out to a “cabane à sucre” or sugar shack, for a traditional Québécois experience that is really like no other.
What should you expect?
A cabane à sucre meal is traditionally served at a long, communal trestle table. The menu will typically include pancakes, crispy lardons, homemade baked beans, omelette, French Canadian split pea soup, sugar pie, and last, but not least, pouding chômeur – cake baked in a thick layer of maple syrup. However, in the past decade, local chefs have jumped on board with the tradition adding a gourmet twist and many unique, delicious variations. Whether you’re looking for traditional, gourmet, or something in between, there is great number of choices around Montreal. Many sugar shacks offer tours of their operations and the experience is not complete without trying maple taffy – maple syrup boiled down until it’s extra thick and poured over fresh snow where it hardens into a delicious taffy. Here are a few options within an easy drive of Montreal.
At their 8th-generation family farm, the Desgroseilliers family has been producing maple syrup since the 1920s. They offer a traditional sugar shack menu of French Canadian classics. They also produce wines and ciders, which you may try as well. After a hearty meal, you will have the opportunity to check out their operation and learn all about maple syrup making. There is a boutique where you can purchase maple syrup and other maple products, and they even have a mini farm and sleigh-rides! Reservations recommended.
Location: 565, Rang Saint-Simon, Saint-Isodore (Quebec)
Distance: 31 km from Montreal
Cabane á Sucre Handfield
Photo credit Pierre Arnaud-KOPP
Rustic, charming, and traditional; the maplery at Auberge Handfield has three dining halls each with a wood burning fireplace. For vegetarians, or those with dietary restrictions or allergies, there is an alternative menu available. Activities and attractions include traditional live music on Saturday and Sunday nights, walking trails, tractor-drawn sleigh rides (Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 am to 8 pm) and bar service. You can also visit the evaporator and watch sap being turned into maple syrup. The Auberge has a spa as well, so you may book in a sauna or massage if you so desire – check their website for more details here.
Where: 555, rue Richelieu, Québec
Phone: 450.584.2226/1.855.579.2226 (toll free)
Distance: 42 km from Montreal
3. Sucrerie De La Montagne
Photo credit Abdallahh
A Quebec heritage site, Sucrerie de la Montagne is located near Rigaud, west of Montreal. Its 100-year-old maple forest covers over 120 acres and it is actually open year-round, though spring is certainly the best time to visit the sugar shack. The all-you-can-eat menu features all the favourites you expect at a cabane à sucre – from crisp-fried pork rinds to crêpes with maple syrup, wood-fired baked beans, and fluffy omelette. Activities include horse-drawn sleigh rides, live music, maple-on-snow taffy, and a general store where you can purchase maple products and local handicrafts.
Where: 300, Chemin Saint-Georges, Rigaud, Quebec
Distance: 72 km from Montreal
Chef à l’Erable by Laurent Godbout
Photo credit QUOI Media Group
If you don’t have a vehicle, have no fear, there are still options within the city. From March 10th to April 16th, the fourth edition of Chef à l’Erable will take place at Scena in the Old Port. Hosted in a unique architectural space with lovely views of Old Montreal, renowned chef Laurent Godbout will be serving an incredible, multi-course, gourmet version of traditional cabane à sucre fare. Only on weekends (Friday from 6pm, Saturday from 6 pm and Sunday from 11 am), be sure to call first for a reservation!
Where: Scena, Pavillon Jacques-Cartier, Jacques-Cartier Quay, (opposite Place Jacques-Cartier), Quays of the Old Port of Montreal
5. Érablière Charbonneau
Photo credit Dean Michaud
This friendly, family-run operation offers great service, wonderful food, and is a great destination if you would like to include a walk or hike in your day. The farm itself offers lovely walking trails, but if you’re looking for additional activities you can find walking and hiking maps for the region here. You’re welcome to tour the maple syrup operations, and they even have a dance on Saturday evenings (call first).
Where: 45, chemin du Sous-Bois, Mont Saint-Grégoire, QC
Distance: 56 km from Montreal