Did you know Ottawa has an urban sugar bush tucked into a patch of urban forest in Vanier? I’ve lived here my whole life and I had no idea until recently. I haven’t told you the best part: they also have a sugar shack! Whether you’re hankering for some maple syrup taffy or a traditional pancake breakfast, you’ll find it at the Vanier Sugar Shack every weekend during the sugaring season (usually from February to April). It’s part of the Vanier Museopark, a museum dedicated to preserving the history of Vanier and Ottawa’s francophone community. The shack produces about 600 litres of syrup each year from 17 and a half acres of forest.
If you’ve never been there, this week is a great time to go: the 35th annual Sugar Festival kicked off Tuesday evening with its Soup Splash event. Eight local restaurants offered up their best maple syrup-laced soups to be judged by both the public and a jury of food lovers, including lucky me. The chefs’ creations showcased many foods that pair well with maple syrup, including sweet potato, Jerusalem artichoke, parsnip, chicken curry, and a memorable “sugar bush wonton soup.” The jury awarded prizes to Le St-Estephe (third), L’Orée du bois (second), and Fraser Cafe (first); the public selected the same three restaurants but swapped the top two positions.
On Wednesday and Thursday the festival is open only to school groups (what a great field trip!) but on Friday night there’s a Franco-ontarien movie screening, and on Saturday and Sunday the festival is open all day, with breakfast service beginning at 9:30am. There’s live entertainment throughout the day, including traditional Canadian and First Nations performers, as well as a lumberjack competition, sled dogs, a bouncy castle and indoor play space for kids, a craft fair and, of course, maple taffy on snow.
If you love the sugar bush but want to stay close to home, the Vanier Sugar Festival is a great way to get your fix. You don’t even need a car – it’s just a short walk from the number 9 bus!
The Vanier Sugar Shack is located at 300 des Pères Blancs Avenue. The festival is open to the public on Friday April 5 from 7-9pm and on Saturday April 6 from 9am-6pm and Sunday April 7 from 9am-3pm (breakfast served 9:30am-3pm both days). Entrance to the festival is free; breakfast costs $15 for adults and $7 for kids. Visit museoparc.ca for a complete lineup of events.