We are proud to share our history with you and we appreciate your interest. Our family has been making maple syrup in this sugar bush every spring since 1904. Five generations of Shaws have taken care of these trees and brought the wonderful taste of maple to the Oro-Medonte community. Each generation has worked in their own unique way to sustain, improve, and expand our family business. We do our best to honour their memory by upholding their commitment to hard work and exceptional quality.
Photos courtesy of family archives and the Orillia Packet and Times.
Our history begins in 1893, when Eleanor and Thomas Shaw purchased our old growth maple bush from the Grand Trunk Railroad. As we understand it, the land was purchased so the family could mill the trees and sell sleigh loads of firewood at the Orillia Farmer’s Market. The property, located on Line 14 South Oro-Medonte, was just over a mile from the family farm on lot 18, Line 13 South and contained over 80 acres of trees, most of which were sugar maples.
In 1904, Eleanor and Thomas’ 16 year old son, James, encouraged the family to make and sell maple syrup. As a result, they put 60 taps in trees, gathered the sap in buckets, and boiled it into syrup using three iron pots under a simple lean-to in the bush. Soon the family was selling both syrup and wood at the market.
In 1906, James constructed our original sugar camp. A key point in our history, he built the camp in the middle of the bush, surrounded by trees and close to a spring fed creek. Later that year, the sugar camp would enclose our first evaporator, purchased from the Grimm Manufacturing Company in Montreal.
State of the art at the time, the evaporator had a corrugated bottom with two-inch grooves. In the evaporator, sap would boil over a wood fire, taking about two and a half hours to complete the transition from sap to maple syrup. Since James was mechanically skilful he, together with his wife Gertrude, improved many aspects of sap collection and processing.
Guests to our sugar bush can visit what remains of the original sugar camp at marker 7 on the 1.5 km hiking trail.
Another key point in our history was reached in 1957 when we installed plastic tubing on 400 trees as a new way of gathering sap. To clarify, sap flowed by gravity through the tubes from the tree to a holding tank where it was transferred, by bucket, into the horse-drawn sleigh. Although the process was still fairly labour intensive, the tubes helped advance us toward more efficient methods of sap collection.
By now, James and Gertrude’s son Norman and his wife Myrtle were very involved in the maple syrup operation.
Every year, Myrtle and Norman would make as much syrup as the season would allow. Then they would bottle the syrup at the sugar camp and deliver it to all of their customers in the surrounding area.
In 1965, Myrtle and Norm built a new home at the sugar bush. 1966 would mark perhaps the most significant point in our history with the construction of a new sugar camp just behind the new house.
The new sugar camp had many benefits. It was closer to the road, electricity and running water, and it made Shaws a destination for our guests. It was now easier for families to visit the bush and see maple syrup being made. Cars could park at the sugar camp and Myrtle and Norman could sell syrup year-round without leaving home. In fact, each time a customer drove in, an air line on the driveway would ring in their house and call either Myrtle or Norm down to the sugar camp.
As in the past, syrup making was a family affair and each spring Myrtle and Norman enjoyed the help of their four children, nine grandchildren and extended family. By this time their son Ron, together with his wife Ruthanne, had taken over the farm and both were vital partners in the syrup making operation.
In 1968, an oil-fired evaporator replaced the wood-fired one, providing a more constant temperature for syrup production. The new evaporator had eight-inch corrugations and reduced the total time from sap-to-syrup by almost half. During this time, an additional 3,500 taps were added for sap collection and 1,500 more were added in 1969.
By 1978, the last buckets were replaced by plastic tubing and an automated vacuum system drew the sap to the sugar shack where it was boiled in a three-phase evaporator system. Since Ron’s drive for innovation worked so well with Norman’s commitment to hard work and quality, they were able to significantly increase the volume of both sap collected and syrup produced by a small crew of 2 or 3.
Ron and Ruthanne revived the entrepreneurial spirit James Shaw had originally brought to the family business and, like James, they researched the industry in depth. During this period, Ron became very active in the North American Maple Syrup Industry and was instrumental in forming both the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association in 1966 and The North American Maple Syrup Council in 1973. Later, in 1980, Ron became the first Canadian to be elected Chairman of the North American Council.
Decades of information gathering trips to syrup making locations across North America, including Quebec, New Brunswick, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont also inspired Ruthanne and Ron to further establish Shaw’s as a tourist attraction.
In 1980 Ruthanne and Ron undertook an ambitious plan to open a Pancake House. This would, again, be a significant point in our history as the plan resulted in the construction of a new sugar camp and the conversion of the old one into the new restaurant.
Ruthanne worked tirelessly to make the Pancake House a success. At the same time, she expanded our line of maple products and established Shaws reputation for high quality syrup by winning multiple awards for Shaw’s Maple Products at a number of maple festivals across Ontario and at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
While Ruthanne focussed on the Pancake House, Ron continued to innovate looking for ways to improve quality and efficiency in the maple syrup making process. In 1982, he purchased a reverse osmosis machine to separate sap from water before boiling by pushing the sap through a semi-permeable membrane.
Then, in 1985, he installed a high pressure boiler. The boiler replaced an open flame with circulating steam as the heat source for boiling sap. The steam allowed the sap to boil at a lower heat and prevented the syrup from burning.
In 1987, Ron received the industry’s highest honour and was inducted into the Maple Hall of Fame, which is perhaps the proudest moment in our history. Ron was always quick to give thanks to his parents who gave him and Ruthanne the opportunity to travel in pursuit of improvements. Myrtle and Norm were happy to look after Carol Ann and Tom as well as the 1,000 pigs at home, patiently looking forward to the latest maple news when Ruthanne and Ron returned.
Another significant milestone in our history was reached in 1991 when Tom Shaw and his wife Terri-Lynn created Shaws Catering. Inspired by annual pig roasts at the farm, and developed through numerous research trips to BBQ and catering hot spots like Indianapolis, Oklahoma, Kansas City and Las Vegas, Shaws Catering quickly became very popular, complementing their work at the Pancake House and keeping the couple busy year-round.
In 1995, Terri-Lynn and Tom would travel back to Oklahoma to learn how to work their new custom smoker and bring it back to Canada. The smoker would be an award-winner for Shaws Catering. Two years later, Shaws would add two custom charcoal BBQ’s to their inventory of catering equipment. Having the right equipment for events on locations is critical to the success of Shaws Catering and Terri-Lynn and Tom have been diligent in renewing and updating their equipment as demand for catered BBQ and do-it-yourself pig roasts grew.
In 2001, Terri-Lynn and Tom would show how able the catering company was by successfully catering a staff appreciation day at Casino Rama for 6,000 guests.
In 2010, Tom and Terri-Lynn became fifth generation owners of the family farm and maple syrup operation.
Over the years, Terri-Lynn and Tom have grown Shaws Catering into a thriving business; catering weddings, social and many large corporate events including Wakestock in Bala, Orillia Lobsterfest, Faith Day at the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, and the Orillia Winter Carnival. They have also catered a number of concerts, including Boots and Hearts at Burl’s Creek.
Terri-Lynn and Tom have also translated their catering skills and experience into Canada’s largest do-it-yourself pig roast operation. Their DIY packages supply everything needed to have a successful feast at cottage or home and Terri-Lynn or Tom are always just a phone call away.
Beyond Shaws Catering, Terri-Lynn and Tom have continued to grow the Shaws Maple Syrup and the Pancake House as a favourite spring destination. In addition, they have made a number of improvements to the maple syrup operation including burying our main sap lines and constructing an “overflow seating” facility that highlights our history with a display of antique equipment.
Committed to maintaining the standards set long ago and upheld by four previous generations, Terri-Lynn and Tom enjoy sharing our history with the public and they work very hard to create a memorable and quality experience for everyone visiting our sugar bush or enjoying a Shaws catered event.