Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay producers start Nor'Wester Maple Company, set to enter maple syrup market

A hike in the forest is usually a quiet way to spend a nice afternoon, but in the case of a group of Thunder Bay, Ont. area entrepreneurs, it turned into a new business venture.

Sean Murray and his partners set up their sugar shack on the Nor'Wester Mountains

The Nor'Wester Maple Company has set up operations on the mountains of the same name, just south of Thunder Bay. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

A hike in the forest is usually a quiet way to spend a nice afternoon, but in the case of a group of Thunder Bay, Ont.-area entrepreneurs, it turned into a new business venture.

"We hiked up to this area and we found all these maple trees," said Sean Murray, the CEO and founder of the Nor'Wester Maple Company, of a stroll he took with friends up the mountains located south of Thunder Bay, after which his company is named.

"We thought 'wow, this is pretty rare for around here ... I wonder if these are the same maples that people in Quebec and St. Joseph's Island make maple syrup out of.'"

It turns out, they are.

Murray and his partners quickly turned that hike near the Canada-United States border into a business, setting up a commercial sugar shack — virtually unheard of in the Thunder Bay area.

The outfit is a smaller one and not fully automated, Murray said, meaning buckets are still being used to collect sap from the 100 or so trees that are currently tapped.  Larger operations have many more trees with lines running from the taps all the way to the shack, where the syrup is produced.

"We're not, in any way, shape or form, a big Quebec-sized operation," he said, adding that there are enough maple trees in the area that expansion is possible.
The company is still relatively small and not yet fully automated. Sap is still collected via buckets. (Jeff Walters / CBC)

Currently, the Nor'Wester Maple Company is running a hybrid system, Murray said, with lines and valves running through the bush where the buckets of sap can be emptied. The lines then take that sap into large tank connected to the shack, where the evaporator — the large contraption that boils down the collected maple sap into syrup — is located.

The evaporator is wood-fired, and uses a lot of it. Murray said they will go through five or six cords in one season.

This is the first year the company has tapped its trees. Murray said he's hoping to have syrup for sale by the beginning of May.

He said it will be available at Thunder Bay's Country Market.

Click here to listen to Jeff Walters' trip to the sugar shack and to learn more about how maple syrup is made.

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