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Canada today produces 85% of the world’s maple syrup, with an industry worth more than $140 million per year. These days, modern vacuum tapping systems are used to augment the amount of sap produced by maples, but as late as the 1960s, maple syrup producers practiced what were essentially centuries-old techniques.
Long before Europeans arrived, Aboriginal peoples in the regions of what are now Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and the northeastern United States collected and boiled sap from hardwood maple trees. Sap was collected in bark containers using a hollow reed inserted into a diagonal cut in the trunk. The sap was added to larger containers, into which heated stones were dropped to boil the sap down to a dark, sweet syrup. Europeans essentially emulated this process using more durable tin pails, boilers and spouts, like the one (above) patented by Hiram Addison Lawrence of East Farnham, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.
In Lawrence’s view, sap-tapping practices in 1876 were overdue for a change. His patent application notes that the commonly used spouts were “in many points very defective in their working, and even absolutely injurious to the tree.” Sap was lost from leakage around the spout, while frozen sap could force the spouts right out of the tree. As well, the force required to insert the spouts often loosened the bark, inviting long-term decay.
Lawrence claimed his spout corrected these defects. A hooked end of the spout was inserted into the hole until a flange at the base of the channel came into contact with the bark. The weight of the pail on the spout’s channel caused the hook to dig in, while the flange prevented leakage.
There are several competing sap spout patents in the Made in Canada database, most of them from Quebec, including no. 21022, no. 21173 and no. 42862, not to mention Lawrence’s own 1880 update. It is therefore unlikely that this particular design had a large impact on the industry, although Lawrence’s philosophy seems to have been in line with official thinking. A 1906 bulletin on the industry from the Department of Agriculture in Ottawa outlines the optimal characteristics of tin sap spouts: “The best pattern is one that will allow the freest flow of sap and be least injurious to the tree, and one that can be securely held by the outer or hard bark and not come in contact with the sap-producing fibres of the innerbark or sap wood.”
Sap buckets underwent a similar subtle evolution, with the greatest innovation being the introduction of pressed metal buckets with an integral lid. The lid kept out rainwater, snow, bits of bark and bugs.