Les Erables 

Autumn in Quebec's Maple Country

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Ever since Freddy Tremblay and I became friends nearly 10 years ago I have been hearing about his father's maple farm. The tales are always warmly told and the scene he sets so iconic a trip there has always been on my list of things to do.

And so it was just a few weeks ago that while travelling in Quebec I finally had some time to make the trip to the farm I have been hearing about for these many years.

Luckily Freddy belongs to a rideshare club in Quebec called Allo Stop, which could make the trip from Quebec City possible for me. Through Allo Stop, people can safely catch a ride along the major routes with the assurance that the driver has had a background check. A middle-aged man, accompanied by two students also hitching a ride, picked me up right on time for the two-hour drive down the highway.

I was dropped just outside Riviere-du-loup to find my good friend waiting for me. Freddy has spent the last nine winters in Whistler, and this past summer was his first summer back home since first heading West. Parked next to him was a pickup truck with a dead moose tied to the bed. "Welcome to Redneck, Quebec," Freddy shouts as he catches me staring at the pickup.

After stocking up on groceries, we made the hour-long journey into Biencourt. The services here are extremely limited, offering only a convenience store, church, and post office on the main drag. We only drove a couple of hundred metres through town before it was gone again — a mere memory in the rearview mirror. We bumbled onto a dirt road that would take us further into the woods, saying goodbye to pavement, streetlights, and civilization. Ten minutes later we were at the driveway of Érabliere Yvon Tremblay.

The Sugar Shack holds a dear place in most Quebecer's hearts. It is a one-stop shop where the maple sap drains from the adjoining forest and is refined for consumption, all under the same roof. Many sugar shacks that lie close to the highway are orientated for tourist visits. Out in Biencourt, no such demand exists — everyone here is involved in maple syrup production in one way or another. Yvon Tremblay belongs to a co-op where the shipping and marketing is taken care of; all he needs to do is produce the syrup. By all accounts, producing is something he does well — over the past 15 years his farm has expanded from 9,000 trees to over 40,000 spread out over 81 hectares.

Freddy had lined up some work for me to occupy my day and boost my travel fund. He and his dad have been clearing new routes for the sap lines to travel — my job was to move whatever got between the trail and Freddy's chainsaw. It was fast-paced, dirty labour that gave me a sore back — but I couldn't have been happier. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded entirely by maple trees. The smells and sights were something that will be forever burned into my memory. It was the beginning of autumn, the yearly event where the maple trees shed their leaves for the long winter ahead, but not before producing a dazzling display of a rich, vibrant colour unique to each tree. As if displaying individual personalities, each tree transforms at its own pace. This created a diverse palette of green, amber, blood orange, crimson, and everything in between within the forest — simultaneously.

From inside the forest the sights, sounds, and smells were engrossing. But Freddy wanted to show me the alternative view of the forest — looking downward from above. So we hopped onto his ATV and sped off down the road toward the local ski hill, Mont Biencourt. Freddy's uncle was busy getting the lodge ready for winter, and didn't mind us shuttling to the top. After a quick safety meeting we headed to the summit 150 metres above. To be honest, I was actually expecting smaller runs. But I could imagine speeding down the runs in winter, and despite the short distance, the thrill is always the same.

The view from the top was breathtaking. As far as the eye could see, a velvety carpet of colour engulfed the landscape. Being from B.C. it is sometimes easy to be spoiled by our stunning landscape, but the view from Mont Biencourt offered a much different style of vista, one that left me in just as much awe of the natural wonder and beauty of this world as our own west coast vistas.

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