For many people, the arrival of spring in Quebec means it’s time to celebrate maple syrup and all things sweet and sugary! “Sugaring off” at the sugar shack is a tradition that has delighted palates for generations. In late February or early March, maple syrup producers across the province begin harvesting maple sap and transforming it into a delicious nectar that has earned a place of choice in the heart of locals and tourists alike.

And while the production of maple syrup and other maple-forward foods is an event in itself, the main event is arguably the thousands of people who travel to the source every year to savour the pleasures of maple directly at a sugar shack. These sugar shacks and maple farms come alive with the presence of syrup fans young and old, from near and far, who are all in search of an authentic eating experience and a welcoming atmosphere.  

Whether going to the sugar shack for you is a yearly outing you wouldn’t miss for the world, or a once-in-a-while indulgence when you’re looking to spoil yourself after winter, there’s no denying it’s the perfect excuse for a springtime gathering. And if you’ve actually never had the pleasure, why not make this year the one to discover this extraordinary heritage? So grab your family, call up some friends and make plans for moments of absolute revelry over plates of eggs, pancakes, grilled meats, baked beans, ham and more – all covered with a generous pouring of premium-quality maple syrup!

To help you make the most of the sugar shack season, we’ve put together some tips, suggestions and fan-favourite experiences you won’t want to miss! Get ready for the meal of a lifetime!

A few sugar shack good-to-knows

Photo credit: Patricia Delisle

Will this be your first time stepping into the delightful world of maple syrup or are you a certified sweet tooth who knows the ins and outs of the whole experience? Either way, here are four things for you and your fellow sugar shack partakers to keep in mind to help you make the most of this iconic Quebec tradition.

Not all sugar shacks stick to tradition
As the places where tasty get-togethers and family gatherings are held, sugar shacks all have their own unique character and their own way of portraying this unique Québécois experience. In these establishments, hosts and artisans alike forge an experience that either harkens back to the good old days, or hints to modern influences and a reinterpretation of tradition. This handy sugar shack directory with multiple sorting options will help you get started. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a meal in the style of yesteryear, or enhance your visit with a gourmet treat, there’s something for everyone!

Some sugar shacks cater to particular dietary restrictions and preferences
There’s no reason you can’t fill your belly, even if you have dietary restrictions or preferences. Many sugar shacks offer a selection of dishes suitable for vegetarian or vegan diets, including scrambled tofu, vegan cretons, maple-grilled seitan, white bean stew and millet tourtière. Some places also offer lactose-free, egg-free or gluten-free menus on request. There are even sugar shacks that are entirely meat-free! Check with the establishment before you reserve, and make sure you’ve got the appetite for a hearty meal when you arrive.

Beyond the food, there are plenty of activities to enjoy
Let’s face it: the biggest selling point of a visit to a sugar shack is... the food! But that doesn’t mean the food is the only reason to go. After a generous meal, you can stretch your legs with all kinds of on-site activities: walks around the maple grove, horse-drawn carriage rides, stops by the petting zoo and traditional dancing are just some of the other things to enjoy at the shack, not to mention witnessing the first signs of spring. And since many activities take place outdoors, it’s important to remember to dress appropriately: wearing waterproof boots or shoes and layering up to keep warm are good ways to adapt to springtime conditions.

There are wallet-friendly options
With hundreds of sugar shacks in Quebec, you’re sure to find one that suits your budget. The best tip: do your research in advance to find THE sugar shack that’s perfect for your group. And since people tend to flock in droves at the peak of the sugaring-off season, be sure to book early for your place at a sugar shack that will please your tummy (and your wallet!). Note too that reservations are mandatory at many locations.

Sugar-shack-inspired activities

Photo credit: Patricia Delisle

Going to a sugar shack is not the only way to participate in the celebration of maple syrup. There are also other kinds of activities – happening either in the city or out in the country – that go heavy on all things maple.

Maple-themed museums
At Cabane à sucre Paquette in the Laurentians, visitors are invited to step into the maple museum to learn about how maple syrup is made. Or you choose to go to Bistreau d’érable, where they present a unique culinary concept that combines guided tours, tastings and talks with producers. And if your mind is already skipping ahead to happy hour, why not make a special trip to Domaine Acer where you can learn about how maple sap can be fermented into an alcoholic beverage.

Sugar-shacking and lodging
Combining the sugaring-off season with an overnight trip? Genius! If you like the rustic side of things, you can stay in a lovely old-fashioned cottage in the heart of the Sucrerie de la Montagne sugar bush in Rigaud. Looking for a more refined getaway? Québec City’s Château Frontenac suggests the Sugar Chic package: a deliciously sweet offer complete with luxury accommodations and a full program of maple-related activities.

There are maple festivals, too!
Going to a maple-syrup-oriented festival is another great way to get the sugar shack experience. It’s the perfect opportunity to get a different take on the season, while enjoying a ton of activities – some free, some not – ranging from live shows to tastings to dance parties. Here are some of our favourites!

·        Cabane Panache: a pop-up lumberjack camp that sets up in Montreal on Promenade Wellington from March 21 to 24. For its 12th edition, this festival promises a sugaring-off party with festive music, food specialties and entertainment!

·        The Festival de l’Érable de Plessisville invites you to experience a real rush of sugar and fun by discovering a ton of activities for its 66th edition, held May 1 to 5. The full program will be announced shortly!

·        For its 33rd edition, from May 10 to 12, the Festival beauceron de l’érable (website available in French only) boasts live music and comedy shows featuring big names as well as up-and-comers. And of course, the maple syrup will be flowing!

·        The municipality of Saint-Pierre-Baptiste will be partying out for the 67th edition of the Festival des Sucres from May 16 to 19. Maple treats, lively music and a festive atmosphere make this festival a definite must-see!

We hope this article has inspired you to go out to the sugar shack and taste all of the mouthwatering delights this season has to offer! Whether your aim is to treat yourself, have fun, partake in a traditional activity or simply mark the arrival of spring, there are plenty of great reasons to celebrate.

Happy maple syrup season!

Photo credit: Michel Julien
Photo credit: Patricia Delisle
Photo credit: Michel Julien
Photo credit: Michel Julien

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