Buckhorn Maplefest


by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

Routes Less Traveled…

You know when you have lived, worked and played in an area long enough, you learn all the “secret” or “less traveled” routes! It was like that with us for the Buckhorn area. We have done all three there for almost 25 years! So, when I tell you that I know the easiest and least traveled route to Buckhorn from Cobourg, you might believe me! That being said, imagine my surprise when every car, both ahead and behind, turned onto MY “secret route”! I guess when something is THAT good others will eventually find out too! Fortunately the traffic flow was steady and we made excellent time to our final destination. Today it was going to be another Maple Syrup Festival. This time it was the Buckhorn Maplefest held at the McLean Berry Farm, (Click to see McLean's website) three weekends of maple syrup, pancakes, hayrides and demonstrations! Judi and I were all set for the activities! We turned off of County Road 23 and followed the signs to the farm. The main parking lot was full, so we were directed to the overflow lot just up the road. We parked our car, grabbed our Festival gear and followed the crowd to Buckhorn Maplefest entrance.

The Pancake Breakfast…

Since the line-up for the pancake breakfast was fairly short, we decided to go there first. The local Lions Club had their food trailer there and were cooking pancakes and sausages in it. As we waited, in line, the aroma of the sausages and pancakes filled the air! By the time we reached the counter to place our order, we were very ready to eat! After loading up plenty of maple syrup, we took our filled plates inside the McLean Berry Farm’s Gift Store. Long tables had been set up, ready for hungry festival visitors. In one of the corners of the room, Glen Caradus, of Paddling Puppeteers, was playing and singing a catchy tune! I recognized Glen immediately. We had seen and heard him perform last year at the Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival in Stouffville. Glen’s style and songs are aimed at entertaining children and the children love him! After finishing our meal, we went back outside. We walked to the Hay Ride line up. It was quite long, so we knew we would have a bit of a wait. Fortunately there were farm animals close by. Parents and there children were able to fill their waiting time looking at and feeding the animals. I asked Judi to stay in line while I went to investigate! All of the kids there were having a great time and the animals loved it just as much! I went back to the line up and Judi took her turn watching the kids and animals. In addition to the animals, the McLean’s had set up a number of large round hay bales for the kids to jump and play on. They were a big hit! Finally the horse drawn wagon came up the lane and pulled up in front of us. The passengers that they were carrying climbed out. It was now our turn for the wagon ride!


Sugar… Sugar…

The ride down the lane on the hay ride was short, but a lot of fun! Our final destination was between the Sugar Bush and the Sugar Shack! We climbed down off the wagon and looked around. Near the Sugar Shack a large black caldron was bubbling with boiling sap. Maple Sugar was being made! This was a demonstration of how Maple Syrup was made in the “old days”! Close by was the Sugar Bush. We could see that many of the trees were tapped and had metal buckets hanging from plastic spigots. We walked closer to one of the tapped trees. Posted on one of the trees was a sign explaining the tapping process. We followed a trail that would lead us through the Sugar Bush. Arrows showed us the way. Along the route more signs were posted, telling about the trees and the making of maple sugar. There were wide ruts along the trail where heavy tractors and wagons had carried freshly gathered sap. We looked down into the bush to see hundreds of buckets handing from many trees. Once we had completed our explorations of the Sugar Bush, we headed to the Sugar Shack. There was a thick stream of steam flowing from the building. We made our way into the shack looking the steaming tanks as we moved through. At the far end of the shack one of the syrup makers was explaining the boiling process to onlookers. Stoking the fire was “the Boss”, Sam McLean! The McLean Berry Farm is a family affair with Sam leading the way! His son, Ben, is now part of the business and is helping to make it grow and prosper. I was able to talk with Sam between his duties as “fire stoker” and “maple syrup interpreter”. We talked about the Maplefest and his berry farm. I asked him when they would start working on the berries. He laughed and said soon. I think he wanted to get the Maplefest over with first! We agreed that I would come back in the late spring to learn more about berry farming. I want to write an article about it, stay tuned! We then said our good-byes to Sam and the festival. We had had a very interesting time at the Buckhorn Maplefest. Judi told me that the pancake breakfast was one of the best she had ever eaten! A strong endorsement and I agreed! Full and happy, we returned to our car and made our way home on our "not so secret" route!