Quebec sugar shacks reeling after ‘catastrophic’ COVID-19 closures
MONTREAL — Pierre Faucher spent much of the month of February preparing to welcome the tens of thousands of clients who flock annually to his sugar shack west of Montreal, eager to learn about traditional sap gathering and eat calorie-laden food drenched in sweet maple syrup.
Today, the long tables in the 200-year-old dining hall are empty, food remains uneaten and the peak-season staff of 100 has been reduced to five after the Quebec government ordered the shutdown of restaurants and gathering places to limit the spread of COVID-19.
While the pandemic has left few businesses untouched, the timing has been particularly cruel for Quebec’s several hundred commercial sugar shacks, many of whom earn the vast majority of their profits during the sugaring-off season that runs from late February to early April.
“It’s a massive blow,” said Faucher, who has operated Sucrerie de la Montagne in Rigaud, Que., for more than 40 years. He estimates that 60 per cent of his annual business comes during sugaring-off season.
“I’ve had difficult situations, but this wins first prize.”
Faucher said the only operation that continues is making syrup, which his farm does by hand. There have been a few takeout food orders, but none of it is enough to make up for what is lost.