Maple Syrup Flows in Port Alberni

Credit: Kristi Dobson
Chaz Coyote Petursson works in the sugar shack to get the new big leaf maple syrup ready for bottling.
Kristi Dobson

Port Alberni has the potential of becoming the next mecca for maple syrup, thanks to an initiative among the Hupacasath First Nation.

When Jason Lion, manager of Kleekhoot Gold, first came to Port Alberni in the Spring of 2015 after completing his Plant and Soil Sciences degree at UBC, he started managing the community garden project. From there, he became aware of the Hupacasath First Nation’s second reserve, Kleekhoot, which is abundant with big leaf maple trees. Located where the Sproat and Stamp rivers meet, the Kleekhoot Reserve looks to be a gold mine for the community members.

“I found a piece of research done about ten years ago from someone who was doing her masters and looking at backyard-scale maple syrup producers on the Island to see where there was the highest rate of sap flow,” Jason said. “She worked with the Hupacasath and tested the trees here. It turned out Port Alberni has the highest production of anywhere else on the Island.”
That research got the ball rolling for a business plan.

Whereas other places in the Valley have only suitable trees growing sporadically in patches, the Kleekhoot reserve is conducive for production with a couple thousand big leaf maples. A specialized sugar shack was built in Ahahswinis reserve near the Hupacasath’s House of Gathering with the intent of high-scale production. So far, goals are being met.

“This year we got up to 600 taps, making us the biggest maple syrup operation in BC,” Jason said. “Our equipment is scaled to expand to accommodate 2,000 taps, so we have the capacity to grow.”

The weather the past few months have been favourable for production. With a stretch of cold temperatures, the crew was able to collect a good amount of sap.

“We need to see temperatures dip below freezing and then thaw,” Jason said. “The pressure difference allows the sap to release.”

The difference between west coast trees and those found in the east include the flavour. They produce a similar tasting syrup, but Jason said Port Alberni’s has a unique butterscotch/vanilla twist.

“Our professional grade equipment makes it comparable to the east,” Jason said. “It has a greater mineral content of calcium, magnesium, and iron which causes sediment in the syrup but our filtration system makes a crystal clear final product.”

He said the market is varied and expects buyers to include locals, tourists, and large distributors. It is also of great interest to the those nearby.

“There has been a lot of community buzz, especially at Hupacasath,” Jason said. “They are happy we started because it provides seasonal employment between fishing and forestry in the summer.”

Bottling is currently underway in the sugar shack with about 16L being readied on any given day. Sales are expected by March but pre-orders can be made by both wholesalers and consumers.

For more information, check out the Kleekhoot Gold Facebook page