Shacking Up For Breakfast: Getting Your Maple Syrup on At Cabane à Sucre

Illustration Credit: Tania Kowynia

There are certain things that are typical of a Quebec childhood: reading Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater, freezing for 11 months out of the year, and annual elementary school trips to a cabane à sucre (sugar shack, to my fellow Anglos). We’d wander around the bucketed trees, peering inside to see the gathered sap. We would eat tire – which is a trail of maple syrup a-top pure snow and then rolled onto a stick. As a semi-adult, I tend to stay away from tire because it has a tendency to run down my arm and into my sleeve before freezing there. It’s a taste of sugar-y goodness, but perhaps not worth the suffering that comes of being an incompetent eater.

As a child, though, what I most-vividly remember is being very overwhelmed while sat in a busy cafeteria of peers, surrounded by huge quantities of pungent food, much of which I couldn’t eat due to being raised in a kosher household. Well. I don’t eat kosher anymore, so now I get to eat all the delicious-smelling food that gets piled in front of me.

And that, short version, is cabane a sucre. Sure, some places fancy it up with petting zoos or a horse-drawn carriage ride, but the nitty gritty of the whole thing is that you pay money and they bring you food until you are cursing your greedy mouth, your self-indulgent stomach, your parents for having created such a short-sighted person and the province of Quebec for giving you the opportunity to break yourself.

Sucrerie de la montagne is in Rigaud, out past John Abbott College and Hudson and into deer country (which, you may know, I’m fond of). So how it works is that you make a booking well in advance and squish into a car with hungry people before driving through snow and past leafless trees until you are out in the Quebec nature.

Once there, it is as though you have wandered onto the set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Authentic log cabins are surrounded by maple syrup-delivering trees. There is a definite village feel the place. 

Sucrerie de la montagne has a long the history, going back over three decades. An official heritage site of Quebec, it was founded by Pierre Faucher in 1982. At the time a small, single building in Chemin St-Georges, its original cabin was eventually taken apart, brought to Rigaud and rebuilt there. That original cabin is now the Magasin Général  on the property, which brought us to the tourist shop/history lesson portion of the trip. We’d gone in to buy a postcard and heard all this info by Pierre Faucher’s son Stefan, who has worked with his father since he was a child. Pierre is a bit of a local celebrity, walking amongst hungry customers and stopping for a quick chat or to pose for photos. He looks like Santa Clause and inspires the same sort of awe in children.

What also makes the experience incredible as the building itself. Inside the main eating cabin are three dining areas, high-beamed wooden ceilings are decorated with fairy lights and let in wide-reaching sunshine.  A lot of people fit inside – well over 300 people can comfortably listen to live music while they eat (and eat and eat). Jaunty fiddle tunes twine with traditional French folk songs and audience members are given spoons to play.

Food is served by women in pioneer-style outfits, and they bring as many refills as requested. It reaches a point where you don’t imagine how anyone could want more food, but somehow someone always does. A wine-sized glass bottle of maple syrup is located at each table alongside homemade pickles, beets and relish. Endless coffee is served, followed by a succession of courses: thick crusty bread, pea soup, maple beans, omelette soufflé eggs, mashed potatoes, Tourtière (meat pie), sausage, ham, meatball stew, and porc rinds. (Vegetarians should be fine as long as they specify that they want vegetarian pea soup and then pile up the pancakes.) Then, if you survive that landslide of deliciousness going into your body, there’s also pancakes and sugar pie. Followed by the afore-mentioned tire when you head back into the cold.

Walking back to the car is generally done in a series of slow waddles, and though the meal will cost you over $40 you are good for the rest of the day. If you are a relatively small eater, it’ll probably cover you for a few days.Wear loose-fitting clothes and enjoy.

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