Sticky, Sweet, and Golden Brown
If there’s one thing that Canada does better (or at least more prolifically) than any other country in the world, it’s maple syrup.
Maple syrup is intertwined with our national mythology; it’s a staple for breakfast across the country (whether on pancakes, waffles, or anything else you can come up with); and what Canadian hasn’t cooled off on a hot summer’s day with a nice, cold glass of thick, sticky, 100% maple syrup?
At present, Canada produces more than 80% of maple syrup in the world (this translates into an average of 34,000,000 litres annually between 2011 and 2015), the bulk of which comes from Québec (there are 7,639 maple farms in Quebec, producing 30 million litres, versus 2,673 maple farms in Ontario, producing 1.3 million litres).
Maple syrup is so prevalent here that not only is there a government-sanctioned ‘Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve’ maintained by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers – there’s even been a so-called ‘Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist,’ during which almost 10,000 barrels of maple syrup were stolen.
It’s the most valuable heist in Canadian history. So we’re not exaggerating when we say maple syrup is serious business up here.
Time to Get Festive
Now, all of that exposition is simply setting the stage for what has become one of the most popular and most enjoyable festivals in the entire Waterloo Region: the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival! This wonderful one-day event has become a staple to the community, and it draws tens of thousands of visitors every year.
Let’s take a closer look!
The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival has been running for over half a century now. The very first festival took place on April 10th, 1965: spring had sprung, the weather was warm, and the festival organizers and volunteers were excited for the day ahead.
Camp stoves were hot and ready, electric griddles had been fiddled with and were ready to griddle, and there were ample supplies of pancakes and maple syrup. They were hoping for a crowd of 2,500.
But that turned out to be a bit low: 10,000 people visited Elmira on that day, each one eager to reconnect with the more rural lifestyles offered here, and to get their fill of maple syrup and revelry.
From its very first day, the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival was a total success – and it’s only gotten bigger since. Indeed, the Guinness Book of World Records has honoured the 2000 Elmira Maple Syrup Festival as the World’s Largest Single Day Maple Syrup Festival ever, with 66,529 visitors!
For many Waterloo Region residents (and just about everyone in the Township of Woolwich, in which Elmira is located), the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival is something to be looked forward to each year. But it’s far larger than that: people come from far and wide to enjoy this special event.
According to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival website, visitors come from, “Australia, Europe, Mexico, the USA, Canada, and even the North Pole.”
What Goes On?
Each year is a joy to attend: they’ve managed to continuously outdo themselves over their 55 year history, and the Festival is fun for visitors of all ages. So, what can you expect to see, do, and hear here?
Well, you can eat your fill of pancakes and sausage patties (with the famous maple syrup itself) for a very reasonable price. You can try other types of food, too, including many other ways of enjoying maple syrup (truly, it’s all delicious).
If that’s not enough, you can say “Hi!” to Flapjack, the Festival mascot, and try your hand at the Pancake Flipping Contest (note: do not try to flip Flapjack).
In terms of events, there’s standard festival fare (a bouncy castle for kids, live music, movie screenings, train rides, and more), but there’s also a range of activities that highlight Elmira and the Township of Woolwich’s more rural setting.
You can check out Old MacDonald’s Farm, you can go for a pony ride, you can saw a log (you even get to keep your branded slice!), you can check out the sugar bush where the maple syrup is harvested and prepared, and much more.
The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival features three primary vendor areas: the Outdoor Mall, which now has well over 100 vendors and is one of the most popular attractions; the Toy Show and Sale, which features around 40 vendors focussed on toys and related collections; and the Antiques, Collectibles and Crafts Market, which features both modern crafts and historical collections.
Find out more about the vendors here.
A Perfect Souvenir
In 1987, the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival offered a limited edition, replica toy bank as a fundraiser. It was extremely popular, and every year afterward featured Festival toy banks for sale.
Starting this year (2018), a little toy truck emblazoned with the festival name and a bright red maple leaf is up for sale.
So not only can you buy a range of crafts, collectibles, and toys from the Festival vendors, you can also buy a little piece of Festival history. Oh, and lots of maple syrup. Elmira maple syrup is a worthy investment.
Elmira: A Great Festival, and a Great Place Overall
The Maple Syrup Festival is the big event in Elmira, but that’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to see and do here year-round. Elmira has its own Junior B Hockey team in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League: the Elmira Sugar Kings (yes, their name stems from the Maple Syrup Festival).
It has numerous parks and trails, a variety of shops and restaurants (including great local fare), a branch of the Waterloo Public Library, and more.
With over 10,000 inhabitants, Elmira is the largest community in Woolwich Township; along with their surrounding areas, Elmira and nearby St. Jacobs are home to a large portion of Canada’s Old Order Mennonite population.
The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival donates tens of thousands of dollars to local community organizations every year; indeed, all proceeds are returned to the community, with much going to Elmira District Community Living. It even won the Outstanding Philanthropic Action award in 2001.
You Can Be a Part of the Festivities
As noted, the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival is run by a team of volunteers every year. Right now, that number has climbed to over 2400! If you’d like to be a part of the World’s Largest Single Day Maple Syrup Festival, check out their Volunteer Page here.
The 2018 Festival has just recently come and gone, yes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t already be looking forward to the next one. You can check out the events from 2018 (to get an idea of what sort of schedule to expect) here.
The 2019 Festival Events schedule should be available this fall – and as the 55th anniversary of the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, you can surely expect great things! To be fair, though, it’s great every year.
Written by Will Kummer