Maple syrup is flowing at the White Owl sugarbush in Kitchener

Dave Skene remembers the first time he tapped a tree for maple syrup.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” Skene, who is Métis, tells APTN News. “I came out here in the spring, I came out here and kind of looking up at the trees.”

Now into his 5th season, Skene is the executive director of the White Owl Sugarbush near Kitchener, Ont., about two hours west of Toronto.

The four hectare property is a unique little parcel of land.

In 2017, it was donated by the Emmanuel United Church in Waterloo.

Arthur Hills is a member of council.

“We manufactured a bill of sale for $1.00 for the material, the lawyers approved and we transferred the property to White Owl,” he says.

Hills said the church had purchased the land over 50 years ago with plans to build on the site.

However, due to the endangered Jefferson salamander which lives in the location, those plans were hindered.

“We couldn’t put a building on but at the same time we had no use of it and nobody would accept that property from us” says Hills.

It was when the church had planned to donate money to the White Owl Native Ancestry Association in Kitchener and that’s when the conversation about transferring ownership of the property began.

“We live in an area within 10 kilometres on each side of the grand river which was deeded to the natives and this is our small way of giving back some of that property through this association,” Hills says.

“It was such a great deal for urban Indigenous people to get out on the land,” says Skene, “I think as an act of reparations, the church, being able to give us this little section of land its not big, its just 10 acres, but really, it represents their desire for reconciliation.”

Stephanie Miniely is from Fort McMurray Alta., and is joining in for this year’s harvest.

She says it’s been an incredible experience.

“We don’t have Maple trees where we’re from and so being able to be invited out here by Dave and their crew and to be able to come out and learn what it means to tap the trees and process the syrup, it’s been way more than that, like hanging out and working together and laughing and having fun,” she says.

Miniely plans to bring a group of students from Alberta next spring to have the same experience.

“Just the idea of being able to celebrate spring, celebrate it in a sense in some ways that would’ve been celebrated back throughout our history with fire, chopping wood, working hard,” says Skene. “Making maple syrup is a hard job but its really kind of creating some community space. I think especially after a hard winter and especially after the pandemic.”

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