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Okanagan 'Maple Man' taps into beloved Canadian tradition

René Turmel at the Vernon Farmers Market.
July 01, 2016 - 11:00 AM

OKANAGAN - Few things are more Canadian than drowning pancakes in maple syrup, or simply drizzling it on snow, and for Kelowna resident René Turmel — ‘The Maple Man’ — there’s no sweeter job in the world than making it for you.

Turmel is a third generation maple farmer. His father taught him how to tap trees by hand, and his father before him. It’s a craft that has, for the most part, been replaced by technology — most farms now use tubing systems to extract the sap.

But Turmel still does it by bucket, moving through the forest collecting sap with his horse.

“What I like most is the smell in the air. Then, when you’re in the farm, the calm of nature, being in the forest, and you start tapping the trees, it’s very special,” Turmel says.

He started helping his dad collect sap as soon as he was able to walk on the family farm in Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, Quebec. Coincidentally, he was born March 30, right around the time the maple harvest begins.

“I was born in the springtime. I guess I came here to make maple syrup,” Turmel says with a laugh. “I fell in love with maple syrup right away.”

His favourite treat as a kid was maple dumplings, in which savoury balls of dough are boiled in the syrup. As an adult, he loves putting the syrup in just about everything. Like gourmet chefs, he enjoys marinating meat in the syrup, as well as using it in salad dressings, fruit salads and smoothies.

He calls Kelowna home and gives numerous talks in local schools every year, but the one downside to living in the beautiful Okanagan is he can’t farm maple syrup here. Sugar Maples, the tree from which he taps his syrup, don’t grow here. So, each spring, he travels back to the family farm in Quebec to collect sap from more than 2,000 maple trees.

This Canada Day, he’s celebrating one of the country’s most iconic symbols, and a tradition that’s been passed down through his family for many years.

The maple leaf itself is a classic symbol for Canadians. Not only is it on our flag, it adorns bank notes and coins, and the coat of arms. The maple tree was officially recognized as Canada’s arboreal emblem in 1996.

“The maple sugar tree is a tree that has so much to give,” he says. “(When they were choosing a tree) they said, Canadians are very generous, like the maple tree.”

The Maple Man can be found at farmers markets in Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton, and visits schools across B.C. and Canada eveyr year to talk about his craft.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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