How sweet it is

September 2019

There are few things more Canadian than maple syrup and our area is fast becoming known for harvesting the very best.

The Nor’Wester Maple Company was started by Sean Murray, David Bates, Cale Leeson and Abe Zettek.

Murray was born in Fort Frances, he came to Thunder Bay for university and never left. “I love the city and the region so I decided this is where I would like to live and raise a family of my own”,
said Murray.

The attraction of the outdoor lifestyle of hunting and fishing had always been a draw for Murray and when his family and friends began making maple syrup as an extension of their other outdoor activities, he was hooked.

“The first year we started making syrup we tapped a small number of trees with homemade spiles. The syrup was jet black and smoky, but it sparked the desire to make more and perhaps even start up a small maple syrup business. Our trees are located close to the American border in the heart of the Nor’Wester Mountain Range. Today, our operation is fully modernized with high efficiency evaporators, reverse osmosis sap concentration machines, and an array of tubing and sap holding tanks. It takes an immense amount of firewood and patience to boil the raw maple sap down into finished syrup. In fact, for every 40 buckets of sap collected, you produce only 1 bucket of final product”, says Murray.

Weather conditions in the spring can affect the amount of syrup that can be made. “In 2016 we ran 25 trees, but this past season we did about 950. Our goal is to eventually reach 1,500 -1,800 trees before looking elsewhere for additional opportunities. Each tap/tree gives you roughly 1 litre of finished maple syrup a season”, says Murray.

Syrup making season is short but requires a near 24/7 operation in the spring when the sap is running, including late nights and early mornings to keep up the boiling and ensure the squirrels haven’t damaged the tubing.

Nor’Wester Maple Company sells their product across Northwestern Ontario including Quetico, Fort Frances, Sioux Narrows, Kenora, Dryden and Thunder Bay including the local Country Market.

Looking to the future, Sean hopes to grow their locally made syrup as big as they can to share the product within Northwestern Ontario. “Since we do not produce enough of our own product, we have formed a new company called Canada West Maple Products, which gathers syrup from other Northern Ontario producers and is used by restaurants, bulk food processors, and customers who want to buy bigger volumes than our 250ml locally made size. Eventually, Canada West will take maple syrup and our new granulated maple sugar product made in Northern Ontario across Canada and even help satisfy eager international customers in Europe and Asia”, said Murray.

Nor’Wester Maple Company credits their growth to the valuable assistance of the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre along with numerous friends and groups that share the passion for the product. “Whether its borrowing snow machines to move lumber, rallying kids to move firewood, or having friends come up to clear more sap line trails, this business is a community of people working together. The future of this local company looks bright and Murray believes it’s important to recognize the long standing tradition of making maple syrup within the Indigenous communities of Canada as well as the community sugarbush on Mt. McKay, which has been making maple syrup in the Thunder Bay area for generations.

Bill Wrightsell is a marketing consultant and regular contributor to Bayview Magazine. Email him at

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