“I was the lucky boy who was born and raised here,” says Stefan Faucher, who with his father Pierre is making it his mission to respect the heritage and traditions of making maple syrup in Southern Québec.
For the past 40 years the family have been resident at Sucrerie de la Montagne sugar shack, a Québec Heritage Site set in a 12-acre forest of centuries-old maple trees.
“This is our liquid gold and we farm it the old-fashioned way by drilling holes in the maple trees and then filling 2,000 buckets by hand,” he says.
“The roots of the trees pull the water from the ground and as it passes up through the trunk the water gets sweeter.
“We like a cold winter, with frost in the soil. Ideal conditions are when the temperature falls to around -2C at night and then warms up to around 5-10C degrees in the day, which draws on the depth of frost in the soil,” he says.
We are in a pioneer-style wooden cabin, where sepia photographs of bygone generations and more recent family shots hang on the walls.
Stefan is standing next to timeless (and time-intensive) equipment that ensures the transformation of maple sap into syrup is done using the traditional evaporator method, fuelled by wood heating.
“It takes around 40 litres of maple sap to make one litre of maple syrup, and we don’t add anything artificial to it,” he says.
The maple syrup harvesting season – a period called ‘sugaring off’ – is a short one, just a few weeks from the end of February to mid-April.
“The First Nations people of this area discovered maple water and have a saying that the Last Decline of the Moon of March means it is time to start drilling,” says Stefan.
But guests are welcome year-round at Sucrerie de la Montagne. On offer for overnight stays are four rustic but comfortable log cabins, with patchwork bed quilts and log-burning stoves. There’s a ‘product shop’ selling maple-infused goodies such as biscuits, almonds and butter that Stefan claims are packed with essential minerals and anti-oxidants – but he doesn’t mention the calories.
And in winter there are also sleigh rides through the snowy forest.
My visit ends with an artisanal lunch for which the word ‘hearty’ could be made for. The dishes just keep coming: pea soup, maple-smoked ham, spicy beans, omelette, country sausages, meatball ragout, bacon, mashed potatoes and, of course, pancakes smothered in a flood of maple syrup.
Anyone who tuned into the BBC 1 series Race Across the World, which aired in March and April, would surely be tempted by Canada’s majestic scenery that provided an ever-changing backdrop. The competitors also clearly enjoyed the warm welcome they received. Unlike the transcontinental focus in previous series, the race took place entirely in Canada, between British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador. The country was featured from coast to coast – 16,000km from Vancouver to St John’s – with five teams of two stopping in places that illustrated the rich diversity of landscapes and experiences on offer in Canada. From the Arctic to the Great Lakes to the Atlantic, on display was Canada’s First Nations heritage, wildlife, soaring scenery, lakes, rivers and mountains, rural landscapes, history and heritage – and with superb cuisine on offer at every stop.
Places visited included Graham Island, the largest island of the Haida Gwaii archipelago; Whistler (both British Columbia); Dawson City and Whitehorse (Yukon); Banff and Calgary (Alberta); Churchill (Manitoba); Saskatoon (Saskatchewan). As well as Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron, Ontario, the largest freshwater island in the world with more than 100 lakes within it and home to six First Nations communities (visitors can take a guided spirit walk learning about the medicinal benefits of the plants and fruits of the forest or canoe tour).
The final episodes showed off Québec City, Toronto and Ottawa before ending in Atlantic Canada, an episode that portrayed the region’s coastal seascapes and abundance of seafood.
Travellers inspired by the show were clearly encouraged to think and book Canada, with Audley, First Class Holidays and Prestige among those tour operators reporting a correlation between the series and a spike in enquiries. And travel agents have also noticed a surge of interest in Canada (see ‘Foresight’ on pages 12-13).
In short, Canada is in demand and visitors are starting to return to the country in impressive numbers.
By the close of 2022, it had welcomed 89% of the total number of visitors it had in 2019, with that pre-pandemic year the benchmark for healthy tourism figures.
And spending by tourists is around 78% of what it was in 2019.
“We are gaining momentum,” Marsha Walden, President and CEO for Destination Canada told Renedez-vous delegates in Québec City in late-May.
“We think we will pass our 2019 figures by late 2023 or early 2024,” she added, while noting that inflation is the “biggest threat impacting on tourism’s growth prospects”.
After the U.S., the UK is Canada’s most important market: UK visitors last year reached almost 60% of 2019 numbers and are predicted to surpass this in early 2025.
Canada’s heart is calling
Canada’s appeal is rooted in its abundant sense of space and landscapes that inspire not just a sense of awe but also a feeling of regeneration; a natural world that encourages open minds and fuels refreshed perspectives.
This is perhaps best summed up by Manitoba’s new tagline, Canada’s Heart is Calling, an epithet wrapped in a sentiment designed to capture how people feel when they holiday in the province.
Destination Canada is further increasing its commitment to the trade through a range of activities this year.
It has joined forces with Selling Travel and Selling Canada in developing a brand-new digital Hub of Canada-only content, a platform that launched in early June.
With new content being added on a regular basis, agents are encouraged to return regularly to sellingtravel.co.uk/hubs/selling-canada.
“We are delighted to offer agents this invaluable and essential resource that covers a huge range of destinations, experiences, activities and more,” said Adam Hanmer, Travel Trade Manager, Destination Canada.
Also planned are various agent roadshows and additional rewards for agents signed up to its Canada Travel Specialist Programme (CSP).
Destination Canada will be meeting agents at roadshows in Bristol (October 4) and Bournemouth (October 5) and there are plans afoot for more events in December.
Planned for next year is the addition of an ‘Elite Level’ tier to the CSP. Hanmer says this will be made up of around 20 top-selling agents, based on their revenues when booking Canada in 2023.
The Elite qualification will last for two years and added benefits for agents will include a bespoke overnight training event and access to two unique Fam trips.
To qualify agents will need to submit their bookings stats at the end of this year.
The revamped CSP Programme features improved digital access for agents that makes the training mobile friendly, fam trip opportunities and training Webinars.
“I’m excited that we will be better supporting our top bookers this year and in 2024, with added value and more opportunities to increase their Canada knowledge”, said Hanmer.
“We’ve been training agents for over 40 years…and the information is continually updated. We’ve added regular webinars covering a wide range of Canadian tourism experiences, which have been receiving great feedback. And we are now taking a large number of qualified agents back to experience Canada in person.”