Rocky Lake is located 55 kms north of The Pas, Manitoba and is surrounded by pristine land. With an abundance of birch trees surrounding us, we have such an appreciation for them and are always careful to have respect for the land and our beautiful trees. The area is crowded with birch trees, as approximately 3000 are located close to our production facility.
We enjoy the fresh air and shade on sunny days and the many species of birds that come home to their nesting grounds such as: pelicans, geese, ducks, seagulls, humming birds, and bald eagles. There are many other species of birds flying over while migrating farther north. Other wildlife wander through our site with curiosity to find out what we are doing.
While waiting for the sap to run we take the time to go fishing and have a fish fry on the shore line. We have the pleasure of bald eagles coming to join us, as we watch them collecting the pieces of fish we don’t consume. Nothing goes to waste. We help the eagles during this time by providing food for them until the lake is open enough for them to fish for themselves. Once the chicks are big enough to fly they will sit in the trees near our site, squawking in their own language, while waiting for the parents to come back with food.
Another fascinating area is Gull Island located very near our site, which is a nesting ground for seagulls and pelicans. Once the chicks have arrived, the island is busy with parents looking after their young. We watch the clumsy little ones moving around and bouncing of the rocks to go into the water to explore their new world. We truly have a paradise around us.
The window of opportunity for making birch syrup is short and sweet, only around 10 - 21 days long beginning the first week of April. Nature doesn't wait for us, so we always have to be prepared to brave the elements. Our processing facility is located in dense bush, 9 km (about 5 miles) across Rocky Lake from our home. Since the lake is often frozen at this time of year, we take our 4x4 trucks, off road all terrain vehicles (quads), and later in the season our airboat across the lake to our Sugar Camp. We bring all our supplies across the ice that is needed for the production. When the ice on the lake has melted to the point where we cannot access the shoreline any longer, we travel to the Sugar Camp using 4x4 trucks and quads through gravel roads, swamps, mud, timber cuts, and forest. The trip across land is approximately 56 km from our home and is the only way for us to finish the production and then bring the birch syrup out of the forest and to the shelves of our favourite stores.
The process of collecting the sap from more than 1500 birch trees is pretty daunting, but we love being out in the fresh air and the great outdoors. Friends and family come out to join us when they can to take a look at the process of making the syrups they love.
Al had tapped maple trees with his grandfather when he was still wet behind the ears. He had heard about birch syrup being produced in Alaska and thought this would be a great adventure for his wife Johanna and their two sons Andy and Peter. The family began tapping birch trees as a pilot project in 2004, beginning with 15 trees. After boiling off a lot of sap from these trees, they had produced only about 1/2 cup of syrup.
In 2005 and 2006 the family decided to tap in excess of 200 trees to experiment with several boiling methods. Johanna worked with a wood cooking stove, propane turkey deep fryer, and a wood stove their son Andy designed. However, none of these cooking methods worked. In 2007 the family purchased maple syrup equipment and tapped in excess of 500 trees and sold their syrup to a wholesale distributor.
By the time Rocky Lake Birchworks Ltd. was born in February of 2009, Al, Johanna, Andy and Peter were selling sap to a winery in Canada and their 100% Pure Birch Syrup to Italy. Since then, we have added a list of great retailers who sell our Birch Breakfast Syrup and 100% Pure Birch Syrup in their stores.