A sugar shack, also known as sap house, sugar house, sugar shanty or sugar cabin (French: cabane à sucre) is a semi-commercial establishment, prominent mainly in Eastern Canada (although in some of New England's territory which is today part of the United States old sugar cabins can be found on properties belonging to the first settler families). Like the name implies, sugar houses are small cabins or series of cabins, originally destined to belong to certain private or farm estates, and where sap collected from sugar maple trees is boiled into maple syrup. Often found on the same territory is the sugar bush, which is intended for cultivation and production of maple syrup by way of craftsmanship (as opposed to global mass production factories built for that purpose in the 20th century).
Historically, sugar houses were a tradition introduced to New France by settlers of Swiss and Normand origin throughout the 17th century. Their purpose was the production of warming and delicious syrup for trade or sale, and for personal use during the cold months of Winter. After the British conquest of 1763, the tradition carried along to the provinces of Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia but remained the only family-related tradition (such as patriarchal crafts) in Quebec.
Today many sugar houses are commercially run and many also offer reception halls and outdoor activities open to the general public during certain months. Many of these activities include sleigh-riding, tours of the grounds, and eating maple toffee made in the house often in front of the clientele. The reception halls cater to large groups offering many varied dishes complemented by maple syrup. These dishes range from ham, bacon, sausages, baked beans, scrambled eggs, pork rinds, and pancakes to many other breakfast type dishes. There are also specialties like homemade pickles, homemade breads, followed by desserts like sugar pie and maple taffy on the snow.
The utmost exploitation of sugar shacks roughly covers the period from late October to early April, when maple sap becomes available. However, at temperatures below 0 Celsius, it is practically impossible to extract the sap, and therefore all efforts are mainly put in the thawing period of early Spring. The activity is usually performed during the two first weeks of April, and has since become both an annual celebration of Spring and the connotation of the upcoming Easter (which can sometimes coincide with the said dates).
- "Sugar house photos from the University of Vermont Library's Maple Research Collection", Published February 10, 2010, University of Vermont, Bailey/Howe Library, Special Collections.