Ripleys maintain sugar woods way of life

Ripleys spend rest of the year selling products at farmers market in Halifax

Dave Mathieson
Published on March 11, 2014

FENWICK - Neil Ripley has been working in the sugar woods for 61 years.

"I was born in June and I was out here the next spring," he said with a laugh. "I've been working here full time since I was 13 years old, and now I'm 61."

If he has it his way, he'll be working there for another 30 years.

Ripley, along with his wife of almost 40 years, Linda, have been spending the last few weeks prepping for the spring sap run-off.

"One time somebody asked me when I plan on moving out and I said, ‘When they take me out in a box,'" said Linda, who grew up in Tidnish.

Asked if they've ever thought of selling their sugar woods, Neil says, "When they carry us out in body bags, then someone else can buy it."

Linda says they love what they do for a living.

"How can you do it for that many years if you didn't like it?" she said.

The Ripleys have been living year-round in their home in the sugar woods for the last 19 years, and they have thousands of visitors in the run of a sugar season.

"We'll get more than 1,500 people out here on a good day," says Linda.

They meet people from all over the world.

"We've had them here from Australia, France and England," said Linda. "We have friends in England who have parents in Halifax and they all stop here every year, and you get people from far away coming out to visit in the summer as well."

The Ripleys spend the remainder of the year selling their syrup products at the farmer's market in Halifax.

"We're there every Saturday, except on the week of Christmas," said Neil.

They've been selling at the market in Halifax every Saturday for 30 years now.

"We get up at 3 a.m., leave here by 3:40 a.m., and we're down there by 6:20 a.m." said Linda.

They have to have their booth set up by 7 a.m.

"The market is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you get on the road by 3:05, you're home by 5:30 p.m.," said Neil.

This year has been a good year for syrup sales.

"Sales were up in Halifax a little every month," said Neil. "People like the new market better. It's a nice market down there."

Linda agrees.

"We love the market but we don't like the traveling. They can take that and put it somewhere else," said Linda with a laugh.

"Neither one of us are travelers," added Neil.

The products they sell at their sugar woods and at the market include maple syrup, maple butter and maple cream.

The Ripleys say their maple products are the best tasting.

"Our syrup is darker than other people's," said Linda. "I might be biased but I think ours tastes the best."

Ripley sugar woods facts:

– They have 16,000 trees tapped.

– Neil will walk about 80 kilometres in snowshoes every winter to re-tap the 16,000 trees.

– They produce 1,000 gallons of syrup in a good year. One thousand gallons of syrup requires 40,000 gallons of sap.

– The cold weather of 2014 means this year's sugar season is off to a relatively late start.

– The season usually runs four to six weeks.