Sugar shacks hope new meals-to-go initiative will make 2021 much sweeter

Quebec's sugar shacks were hit hard last year by the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are pinning their hopes for 2021 on a new campaign that will let customers buy ready-made meals and enjoy them at home.

Dozens of Quebec operations taking part in new initiative launching Monday

Some 65 Quebec sugar shacks are participating in a new initiative called Ma cabane à la maison, which allows customers to order ready-made meals and enjoy them in the comfort — and safety — of their own homes. (CBC)

As the maple sap starts flowing, Quebec's sugar shacks are hoping a new meal-to-go campaign will get them through another difficult season.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the province's roughly 200 sugar shacks to close last March, and the restrictions still in place across Quebec means establishments can't welcome as many guests as usual.

That's the case at Érablière J.B. Caron in Gracefield, Que., which is keeping its doors closed for now, even though the region moves into the less-restrictive orange zone on Monday. 

"We can only have two adults and their kids per table," said owner Frédéric Tremblay-Carle, who can usually welcome 100 guests into his establishment. 

"So we won't open for only 20 people."

'It's going to save my season'

Instead, Tremblay-Carle's establishment is one of 65 Quebec sugar shacks participating in a new initiative called Ma cabane à la maison that also launches Monday.

The initiative allows people to order a gourmet box of reheatable or ready-to-cook dishes from sugar shacks across the province.

At Érablière J.B. Caron, that includes classics like pea soup, sugar pie and tourtière.

"It's going to save my season," Tremblay-Carle said about the program. 

Frédéric Tremblay-Carle, left, packs a meal box at Érablière J.B. Caron in Gracefield, Que., on Feb. 20, 2021. Tremblay-Carle's says it makes more sense to take part in the program than to open right now. (Rémi Authier/Radio-Canada)

It's a sentiment shared by the program's founder, Stéphanie Laurin, who also owns Chalet des Erables in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Que., just outside Montreal.

Laurin said most sugar shacks, including her own, lost 90 per cent of their income in 2020. Roughly 40 have closed since the start of the pandemic, she said.

"If nothing is done, 75 percent of Quebec sugar shacks could disappear forever," Laurin said. 

"It's our history ... most of them are open since, I don't know, maybe 1940, 1950. And it's passed through every generation, so it means a lot [to keep them going]."


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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