Bringing our Sugar Bush to Niagara-on-the-Lake

How does one bring the forest indoors?

When I think of Maple Syrup, at least for me, I think of the place it starts. Growing up I have memories of collecting the sap on the hillside, walking through either snow or mud, dumping pails into a tank pulled down the trail where it would be sent down a pipe to the roadside. So for me it is really all about the forest; that’s where Maple Syrup starts.

Fast forward a few decades and I say to my family “I want to share our Maple Syrup story off the farm.” If only I knew what that statement would create. Afterall, bringing a story to life is no walk in the park (or forest). Now if you’ve ever written a book — (which I have not so maybe that’s the wrong analogy) how about building a house that might be more familiar for some. So you want to build a house, well how big will this house be, where will it be, who will be living inside this house and of course how big do you want your walk-in closet? And that’s before a pencil hits the paper, so the architect makes your perfect drawings….then you build the foundation, frame the walls, put the roof on and now you have a shell of a house that you’ll fill to make it your home.

So how does this relate to our story (well it doesn’t as it turns out, but now you know more about building a house). Just kidding, the architect drawing is the idea, “lets bring our story off the farm”. The shell of the house is the storefront, it’s empty and dark. Making it our home, that’s the hard part. “How do I make this empty dark space feel like that memory from my childhood. How do I bring the Sugar Bush inside?”

As it turns out our landlord didn’t like the idea of planting trees in their building, nor was the 200 sq ft big enough to make it feel like our 100 acre forest so we had to take a different route. Trees are what makes the forest so we need to see trees, a trail is our way through so we needed one of those and every forest has tree stumps so one of them would be nice too. This looks like a forest but it doesn’t feel like that memory yet.

When you visit our farm (and even growing up on our farm) the best part is tasting what we make. Maple Syrup on a spoon, it’s just so yummy. What a memory that is, tasting Maple Syrup in the Sugar Bush (Discover Maple Tour 😉). So a tasting bar is on our list. Oh and it would be nice to sell our maple syrup too so lets add some shelves to display all our delicious products.

Designing an Experience.

Oh boy, that’s a lot to fit in a “small space” (in comparison to a forest). Enter: Matt Douglas; A passionate creator with a keen sense of bringing an experience to life. Back in 2017 Matt and his team helped us create a space in the Fallsview Casino Galleria that had all these elements (even taffy on snow). We spent months working on this first project, scrutinizing over every detail from creating that forest and farm feel in the space to the price tags on the shelves (which by the way are made of wood from our own forest). This first store has since moved within the Casino Resort but has all the great details we worked so hard to create.

So back to Niagara-on-the-Lake, taking all the elements we created with Matt we needed to squeeze this into 200 sq ft. Unfortunately for us (but not for him) Matt had moved to Yukon since our first project and as it turns out that shrink ray from Honey I Shrunk The Kids doesn’t actually exist. Enter: Jordan Fang; an interior designer with a great feel for unique spaces. His mindfulness on what we were trying to achieve was exactly what was needed. Problem solving in such a small space was challenging but after several revisions and measuring twice before cutting, we came up with something I felt would give that memory a life of its own.

Bringing it all together!

The Centerpiece is the forest. I took 135 photos and stitch them together to create a panoramic photo of our forest. The trail in the photo is one of my favourite. I’ve walked it (backwards I might add) so many times over the countless Discover Maple tours I’ve done. And I’m looking forward to doing these again in the near future with the pandemic restrictions easing up.

Next is our Tasting Area with a backsplash of 160 little bottles showcasing the four colours of maple syrup. Here is where all the senses come together to appreciate the craft and work put into each of the tasty items we make at our farm.

And of course sharing our story. A photo is worth a thousand words and we have a whole bunch of them with a story to go with each.

Closing thoughts

A project like this doesn’t happen on its own. Thanks to everyone that helped bring this space to life. Electric by Design (Lighting and Electrical), McRae Imaging (Image Printing), Graphic Image Flooring (printed flooring), Kevin Bering Carpentry (Cabinetry, all general construction and finishing work).

And even though you may never fully appreciate the memory that inspired this space like I do…I hope you enjoy it and even get a small glimpse into a day in the Sugar Bush.