By Lawrence Powell
It was all about maple syrup Saturday at Kejimkukik National Park and National Historic Site as hundreds of people trekked from the parking lot up the hill to Jim Charles Point to eat pancakes, make maple candy, craft talking sticks, and hike through the woods on a medicine walk and view maple-tapping demonstrations.
A cooking shelter at the top of the hill housed the griddle for the North Queens Ground Search and Rescue group who cooked up pancakes and sausages while Parks Canada's Jackie Joressen poured the syrup on the hotcake stacks. By noon the fundraiser had served up about 400 plates and the coffee urn was empty. Joey Naugler cooked close to a thousand pancakes. And people were still arriving.
Down the hill a bucket of maple sap slung on a pole slowly boiled above a large fire with red-hot coals. Cathy Leblanc, Keji's interpretive coordinator, kept events going. She poured hot syrup on the snow where it cooled rapidly to form maple candy. She told the story of the Mi'Kmaw maiden who first discovered maple sap after her grandfather, on a vision quest, threw his axe into a maple tree and the sap dripped into a cooking utensil.
At the official opening, beside the fire, the South Shore Opportunities Drumming Group presented 'Feast Song.' Later kids, and more than a few adults, made talking sticks, painted rocks, and made necklaces -- and learned how to play Waltes, a Mi'kmaw game.
It was the first year for the celebration of Mi'kmaw Maple Syrup Heritage -- Kejimkujik'jk Sismoqmapu -- and it was an unqualified success, drawing couples and families from as far away as Halifax and Dartmouth. Yao Chen and Yuan Tian are students at Saint Mary's University and drove all the way to Keji specifically for the syrup festival -- and they had a great time getting away from the city to see a bit of nature and enjoy the pancakes.
Brock Whynot, two-year-old son of Brad and Candace Whynot of Charlston, Queens County, was one of several children who enjoyed toasting marshmallows over the fire (with a little help from the grownups).