Late last spring I happened to overhear a couple of friends talking about a local sugarbush. I thought I heard one say, “and they have a hog oiler in their museum!” This immediately raised a number of important questions in my mind. What sugarbush would have a museum? What kind of museum would have a hog oiler? And what exactly IS a hog oiler?
In order to settle these and other important questions I paid a visit to Wheelers Maple: Wheelers Pancake House, Sugar Camp and Museums out past Lanark north of Highway 7. It’s an amazingly diverse place for a sugarbush. Of course, they are producing maple syrup at this time of year. But they also have not one but TWO museums in two rustic log buildings. Additionally, they have a playground, a zipline, a blacksmith, hiking trails and more.
One museum is full of antique farm implements (including the hog oiler) and over 650 chainsaws. The other museum is dedicated to maple syrup production paraphernalia and has over 5,000 artifacts. And, yes, that is a world record number of syrup artefacts—and they have the Guinness Book of World Records certificate hanging on the wall to prove it. Of course there are buckets and hoses but also an astounding variety of maple syrup dispensers, maple sugar molds and everything else maple.
“If there was a yard sale or an antique shop we would pull over. And the two things he always collected were chainsaws and maple items.”
But my favourite building is the restaurant/syrup production building. It’s a very large airy log structure. On one side is the restaurant and on the other side you can get a close up look at the process of boiling down the sap into syrup.
Apt613 talked to Mark Wheeler. Mark is the son of Vernon Wheeler who founded Wheelers Maple and collected all the chainsaws. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: You have a fairly big operation here. Do you get buses on the weekends during the spring?
Mark Wheeler: No, buses would make it too crowded. But we can serve in excess of 500 people a day on a springtime weekend.
Everything has kind of a different season. We’re open all year round. So in summertime, we get tourists visiting Ottawa and the lakes in the area and it’s fairly steady in the fall as well. They come to see the leaves or to go for a hike on a trail.
In winter time we’re directly on a snowmobile trail. So in the winter months, if there’s lots of snow, over half of our customers are going to be coming in on snowmobiles.
So why do you have a chainsaw museum here?
Well, Dad really likes the chainsaws and all of the different unique chainsaws that are out there. Diesel chainsaws for example, and the first chainsaws, how dangerous they were. It’s amazing that more people didn’t lose their lives.
Ever since I was a little kid I remember whenever we’d go on camping trips or whenever we go anywhere, if there was a yard sale or an antique shop we would pull over. And the two things he always collected were chainsaws and maple items.
“We’re tapping over 30,000 trees right now. And we’ve got room to add another 15 or 20,000.”
Okay. So you have an interesting operation here. What direction would you be taking it in the future?
We’re planning on increasing production. So we’re tapping over 30,000 trees right now. And we’ve got room to add another 15 or 20,000. And we’d would also like to work more on the value of the syrup.
The majority of our syrup is sold in bulk and drums in the market. So, we’d like to develop our marketing around our products. Like maybe as a food additive. And we promote the use of maple syrup as a healthy alternative to sugar.
So for example, we supply syrup to Suzy Q Donuts in Ottawa for their Maple Bacon donuts, real maple syrup. And we supply syrup to Beau’s Brewery for flavouring in one of their organic beers.
Wheelers Maple is an hour’s drive west from Ottawa in the Lanark Highlands. They are open every day from 9 am to 3 pm except Christmas Day. Everything is free except the restaurant and any maple products that you buy.