The Sweet Legacy of Maple Syrup in Warkworth

By: Lea Phillips

The Sweet Legacy of Maple Syrup in Warkworth

As winters chill gives way to the warmth of spring in Warkworth, an age-old tradition comes to life. The sap starts flowing, and with it, the rich history of maple syrup production is celebrated by the community.

A Tradition Rooted in Nature

Maple syrup’s beginnings can be traced back to Indigenous peoples, who were the first to harvest the sap of maple trees. Gathering in ceremony, they heated sap in logs using hot stones to create a syrup that was used for medicinal purposes, an energy elixir and to preserve meat. Rich in nutrients, the sap became an important resource that was used year-round.

This natural process would have been shared with early European settlers by Indigenous people. They also gathered as neighbours to collect and boil down the sap—a process that turned into a community event. Thus, the groundwork was laid for a tradition that would sweeten the lives of generations to come. To this day it remains an annual community building activity and we’ve built a festival around it!

Sandy Flat Sugar Bush: A Beacon of Tradition

At the centre of Warkworth’s maple syrup tradition is the Sandy Flat Sugar Bush. It was started by William R. Losie who tapped maples in the eighteen hundreds. The next owners, the Miner Family, also tapped the trees as well as the Millford McVety Family who continued until they sold the property in 1968. From there it lay dormant for a few years until George and Alice Potter purchased the property and started making syrup in the early 1970s. Present day owners, Chris and Robin Clark, purchased the land in 2017 – continuing the legacy and stewardship of Sandy Flat Sugar Bush.

George and Alice Potter were well known in the community and the first to open Sandy Flat to the public. They started off their maple syrup operation as a hobby activity gathering 50 to 200 buckets of sap each year. Over time, they began to tap more trees and it became a full-scale business producing award-winning maple syrup. By the mid-seventies they opened a pancake house and became the star attraction of the Warkworth Maple Syrup Festival.

Chris and Robin Clark, together with their daughters Hannah and Emma, carry on the Potter tradition of welcoming visitors from far and wide each spring. They continue to steward the land as those before them did. Though modern efficiencies have been embraced, the Clarks still produce syrup the old-fashioned way, using time and heat to craft pure maple syrup—free of preservatives, artificial colours, or flavourings. This ensures that every drop preserves the authentic taste that defines Sandy Flat maple syrup.

The Warkworth Maple Syrup Festival: A Celebration of Community

This year, the festival runs the weekend of March 9 and 10, 2024. Now in its 36th year, the Warkworth Maple Syrup Festival is enjoyed by the community, as well as visitors from far and wide. The festival hosts over 3,000 people each year in just one weekend — impressive for a village with a population of 800!

It truly ‘takes a village’ to plan and run the festival each year. Many volunteers and organizations come together to make it happen, including the Warkworth Service Club, Warkworth Business Association, Festival Marketing Committee and Sandy Flat Sugar Bush. Plus, countless sponsors.

Join us at Sandy Flat Sugar Bush where you’ll fun-filled activities including horse-drawn wagon rides, maple taffy making, sugaring-off tours, nature trails and live music. Warkworth Service Club offers a pancake breakfast fundraiser there to support community initiatives. Plus, there’s more excitement in the Village of Warkworth with its unique shops and restaurants, an artisan market at the town hall, street performances, a local microbrewery tent, and more. Hop on one the free shuttle buses to travel between the Sugar Bush and the Village easily.

Tapping into the Heart of Trent Hills

From its Indigenous roots to the convivial gatherings of the early settlers, and through to the current festival, the history of maple syrup in Warkworth is steeped in community.

So next time you drizzle some maple syrup over your pancakes, take a moment to savour the story behind it—a tale of resilience, innovation, and the collective spirit that has been flowing through Warkworth for generations.