The Baker family story has always been of great interest to us, and we consider the Bakers to be both friends and Ontario maple syrup pioneers. We came to know the Bakers almost 70 years ago and we are proud to present a little bit of their history for you to enjoy. For a more detailed history from the Baker family themselves, please click HERE.
Starting Out in the Early 1800's
The earliest Bakers came to Ontario from Pennsylvania in 1797 and immediately started making maple syrup. In 1816, Jonathan Baker Sr bought a 200-acre property in Vaughan township that became the family farm. Jonathan and his family cleared half the property for farming but left 80 acres on the east and 20 acres on the west of the property as forest. After using many of the large growth pine to build homes and barns, the sun started to reach the maple trees and they began to thrive. Maple sugar provided the only sweetener available to the family so they were committed to securing a good harvest each year. At the time, the family used wooden spiles (taps) and wooden buckets to collect sap. Syrup was made in small batches using an iron kettle and over a closely watched fire.
Throughout their history, the Baker family engaged in a process of seemingly constant innovation. By finding ways to make syrup more efficiently, the family was able to increase the volume of syrup they produced each year. After using wooden buckets for a hundred years, the Bakers moved to tin pails in the early 1900’s. As they expanded the number of trees they tapped, they also looked for ways to simplify sap collection. In the mid 1950’s, Amos Baker introduced a clever new sap collection system that centred on 4,000 feet of galvanized steel pipe running through the bush. At a number of places in the bush, Amos connected galvanized 10 gallon funnels covered with lids to the pipe. This allowed his family to empty the sap buckets near the tree and, with the help of gravity, sap would run to one central location for collection. The new process made it possible for one person to collect all the sap in a particularly muddy and hilly section of the Baker bush.
The idea of using a plastic tube to gather sap right from the tap or spile in the tree came from a meeting in Hespeler, sponsored by Ernie Steele at the Department of Lands and Forests. Having already recognized the value of the steel collection pipes, Amos Baker pursued the plastic tube idea and worked directly with different tubing manufacturers to try to master the process.
Amos ultimately created a system that had plastic tubing at the trees, galvanized pipe in the ground and a vacuum system facilitating sap collection. To make it all work together, Amos invented a steel “manifold”: a short threaded piece of metal pipe screwed on to the main steel pipe. The manifold connected to the plastic tubing and allowed the sap to flow directly from the tree to the collection system. The threaded nature of the manifold made it easy to remove from the pipe for cleaning. The vacuum would make it possible to draw sap in areas of the bush where gravity could not be relied on. With over 1,000 trees now tapped with plastic tubing, Amos and his son Paul created a colour-coded system to connect the tubing, trees and galvanized pipe system. Each year the tubing would be taken down, washed and stored. In the spring, the colour coding provided a map to help efficiently re-connect the tubing to the trees. The new process made it much simpler for the family to quickly gather sap for boiling, resulting in a higher volume of fresh, better quality syrup and less waste.
The Bakers looked for innovation in every part of the process and when manufacturers produced new tree tapping technology that could be carried on your back, the Bakers tried it. The picture below shows Paul Baker using an early “portable” drill. Although heavy and cumbersome, the drill still made the process more efficient than a hand drill. Like us, the Bakers had a strong commitment to caring for the trees in their bush. Tapping the trees in the spring was like visiting old friends and the Bakers made certain that the trees were in the best shape possible.
The innovations in syrup production made by the Baker family would be the driver behind our two families meeting. In the mid 1950’s Ron Shaw travelled to Toronto to meet Amos and see his new plastic tubing system in person. Upon his return to Oro-Medonte, Ron installed our first plastic tubing on 400 of our maple trees. Ron and Amos would work together to help establish the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association and both played a key part in helping the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture strengthen the maple industry. As time passed, the bond between the men and their families grew. Since the Baker bush in Vaughan was located about an hour south of ours, their maple season ended approximately a week earlier. That made it possible for the whole Baker family to come to Oro-Medonte for an end of season visit of pancakes and conversation. It was something our family looked forward to each year.
Surrounded By City
By 1998, the Baker family farm was surrounded by the growing city of Toronto. Paul and his wife Mary decided to sell the family property and move to Franklin County Pennsylvania. We consider it very fortunate that the history of the property and the beauty of the sugar bush have been maintained as a heritage property by the City of Vaughan. While not in the same pristine shape it was during the time of the Bakers, the woodlot to the east of the original farm is now known as the Sugarbush Nature Walk through Bakers Woods and it is recognized as one of the “Great Walks of Vaughan”.
Once A Syrup Producer...
On the new farm, Paul planned how he would resume making maple syrup. When Ron and his wife Ruthanne visited Paul and Mary in Pennsylvania, Paul proudly showed them the maple grove of 600 trees that he planted and planned to tap one day. While it may be surprising to some, it’s no surprise to us that Paul’s trees took less than 20 years to produce maple syrup. Proof again that the Bakers are maple syrup pioneers.
In nearby Berlin, Paul and Mary’s daughter Susan and her husband Aaron Kinsley also have a growing syrup operation known as Kinsley Maple. With more than 13,000 taps on trees, they have enough work for the next generation of Bakers.
Finally, the Baker legacy in Ontario continues with Amos’s daughter, and Paul’s sister, Elizabeth. Together with her husband John Drudge, their three sons and their families, the Drudges have been making Drudge Family Farm Maple Syrup on their ever-expanding property since 1967. Elizabeth’s grandchildren are now the ninth generation of maple syrup producers in Ontario, and they take full advantage of two centuries of experience to bring delicious maple syrup to their surrounding community. A display of historical syrup making equipment in their sugar camp includes some original wooden buckets and wooden spiles and shows visitors the many contributions to modern syrup making the Baker family has made. If you ever find yourself in the area north-west of Kitchener, keep an eye out for the Drudge Family Farm and enjoy a bit of Ontario Maple history from a family of maple syrup pioneers.