The Heritage Corner, Springhill Record

February 27, 2008

Wed. Feb. 27, 2008 – Cumberland Maple & Salt Mine

The following are excerpts from Bertha Scott’s book “Springhill” which was published in 1926. This book has recently been reprinted by the Springhill Heritage Group.

“Cumberland Maple”

Back in the dim years, there dawned an industry which has become justly famous – the making of the Cumberland Maple products. It is said that in the beginning, Indians living in the vicinity of Westchester boiled potatoes in maple sap, making the discovery that the sap became thick and sweet with boiling. From this, it was a simple step to the making of wax and sugar.

The early settlers would no doubt, easily learn of it, and improve upon the original methods. The superior products of the present day are the result of careful experiments and processes extending back for at least a hundred years.

David Gilroy, was probably one of the early sugar makers. His sons, Rufus and George were making sugar before Springhill was built. Levi Gilroy, a son of Rufus, uses in his camp at the present time, “sugaring off” pots which have been in used for more than eighty years.

The method of tapping the trees has been the same from the beginning. A cut is made with an axe, but it must be properly done. A wooden spile is inserted, over which the sap flows. At first a fir tree was cut into two foot lengths which were made into troughs. These were placed under the spiles to catch the sap. The large white birch barks which would hold about two gallons each were used. These were replaced by tin cans such as are used at the present time.

About fifty years ago, George Gilroy installed the first Evaporator. Others followed, and the making of sugar became more and more a commercial adventure.

When the sugar was made at first for family use only, the sap was collected and carried into the camp by hand, but where hundreds of trees are tapped, this part of the work must be done by horse teams.

Frost and hot sunshine are the ideal combination for the flow of sap, but it is a combination that works havoc with the disintegrating snow of springtime. Following a winter of deep, the sugar season is one of ceaseless activity. Immense quantities of sap are required to feed the Evaporators. It must not only be gathered and brought in over the deep snow, but the workers must be ever on their guard against rain, which if it gets into the sap, clouds and darkens the finished products.

The inside work is equally arduous and exciting. The Evaporators bring the sap to the syrup stage only. It must then be boiled in pots to make wax and sugar. The pots must be watched and brought to precise degree of cooking. For the wax, the candied syrup is poured over snow and packed in birch barks of various sizes. For the sugar, the result is obtained by stirring, like gigantic pots of fudge, and packing into moulds. In times past, souvenir cakes were made in the form of tiny houses and little strapped trunks – most delicate carving in the little moulds.

Maple cream is a recent variation – all are equally pure and delicious.

The Lodges and Browns of Mapleton; Dicksons, Coves, Millss’, Weatherbees

of Claremont; Gilroys, Nelsons, Hunters, Smiths, Boss’s and Schurmans have been the principal sugar-makers in the vicinity of Springhill.

There are, at present, twenty camps in the Rodney-Leamington maple range, with an average production of fifteen hundred pounds for each camp.

There is a story of an industry which flourished at Salt Springs about sixty years ago. At least there is enough of the story to enable on to visualize a scene of activity long since past into oblivion. It is said that over one hundred years ago, two brothers, William, and (it is thought) Moses Boss, living on the Barney Mills farm, were Moose-hunting. Being thirsty one of them drank from a spring and found it salt. Looking over the ground, and considering it from different points, they saw the possibility of making use of this gift of Nature, placed in the wilderness, ready to the hand of man. One of the brothers held a claim of about fourteen acres in the vicinity. He was not free to proceed, however, without a clear title from the British Crown, which at this time, held the right to all minerals. As an inducement to his brother to go to England to obtain this title, he promised him half an acre of land, and half the water privilege. He was successful, and the work was put into operation.

In 1838, Nathan Gilroy removed from Springhill, taking up the claim which carried the farm of thirteen acres in addition to half the water privilege. His son Thomas Gilroy, later carried on the work in the same way as at the beginning.

The water was brought to the salt-house from the springs, in pipes, and boiled in great iron pots with an average capacity of one hundred gallons. Some days they made as much as ten bushels. It brought an average price of sixty cents. It is said to have been of beautiful quality, fine and white, a delight to the country women who used it in their butter making, and sent for it from long distances. The salt used in the new pots was tinged with iron. This grade was used for curing meats and similar purposes. In the course of time, Mr. Gilroy sold to James Hewson, of River Philip, and James Hickman acquired the other half. These men increased the equipment, Hewson’s having as many as ten pots. This half was again sold, and the work came to an end. Later, Mr. Hickman gave Mr. Gilroy the privilege of making salt to supply the people in the vicinity. The early settlers coming to Springhill saw the close of this industry.