When the Hupacasath First Nation originally developed their economic development plan, the idea was to add fishing stations at the Kleekhoot reserve in the Alberni Valley. But when a visiting UBC student noticed all the bigleaf maple trees in the area and suggested the First Nation consider launching their own maple syrup farm, an idea was born.
From idea to market, Kleekhoot Gold Maple Syrup became a reality in just 18 months. Rick Hewson, its CEO, says Kleekhoot Gold became the first company to commercially produce maple syrup from bigleaf maple trees in January 2017.
The business is also a sustainable one that preserves the Alberni Valley ecosystem — Hewson says tapped trees can heal completely in as little as three months.
During Kleekhoot Gold’s first season, 600 bigleaf maple trees were tapped to produce roughly 2,000 bottles of maple syrup. The syrup, which has unique undertones of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch and honey, was a hit.
“We’ve had a significant demand for the product already,” says Hewson, “so we are expanding to tap between 3,000 and 5,000 trees next season.”
He says already more than 40 tourist-oriented stores from Vancouver Island to Alberta are interested in selling Kleekhoot Gold, and the business has been in touch with restaurants and grocery stores interested in carrying the product.
“Now come the challenges,” says Hewson. “Now we have to make sure we produce enough product to meet the demand.”
It’s going to be a busy tapping season.