There’s nothing quite like a visit to a cabane à sucre when the weather warms up and the maple tree sap starts flowing. Around Montreal, there are hundreds of sugar shacks to choose from, each with their own particular delights — and drawbacks, depending on your preferences.
For some people, a large sugar shack feels exciting but to others, a big dining hall feels too much like a cafeteria, and lineups could be a non-starter. On the other hand, some of the tiny, family-owned log cabins win points for intimacy and authenticity, but may require reservations well in advance and lack entertainment for small children. Some people get excited about a cabane à sucre with activities on site, while others may feel too many extras make it feel more like going to a carnival than a country outing.
The good news is, with so many sugar shacks within a short drive of the city, there’s bound to be one that will become your new family favourite. Read on to discover the sweet spot that’s right for you.
Most sugar shacks are open from the end of February until late April. While not always described as ‘all-you-can-eat’, it is almost impossible to leave hungry. Advice: wear stretchy pants! Food is usually served family-style at a long table or offered as a buffet and there is a good chance you will discover that maple syrup tastes good with almost everything. Reservations are recommended, particularly on weekends.
For the gourmand…
It’s not all about the kids, right? Wine lovers will appreciate a taste of something different at Domaine Labranche near Chateauguay. The site is home to an orchard and vineyard, as well as a sugar bush, so you can enjoy cider or wine tastings along with the usual trappings of a cabane à sucre. Among the drinks available for tastings is a maple wine, created by fermenting maple water that was recently lauded by Boucle Magazine as having a “refined and delicate taste.” Expect an elaborate traditional meal with flourishes like apple and cranberry chutney, and beet hummus. As of April, Domaine Labranche has begun offering a gluten-free vegan menu, with includes curried tofu and soy-based meatballs. There is also music and dancing, taffy on snow, sleigh rides, farm animals and walks through the maple forest. Call 450-454-2045 or visit labranche.ca.
For picky kids or special diets…
Cabane à Sucre Marc Besner in Coteau-du-Lac serves the traditional sugar shack feast buffet style, so little ones can fill their plates with food they will actually eat, and those with dietary restrictions need not feel left out. The buffet includes the usual pea soup, sausages, pork rind and baked beans, but also includes a variety of salads with maple syrup dressings, poached eggs, mashed potatoes, pancakes and donuts. There is also face painting, sleigh rides and live music. Decorated with antique farm tools used by the Besner family over the years, the place exudes warmth and serves delicious food. Call 450-456-3753 or visit cabanemarcbesner.com.
Those on strict diets can also try the cabane à sucre at Auberge Handfield in St. Marc sur Richelieu. With a menu offering vegan, vegetarian, lactose-free and gluten-free takes on traditional dishes, everyone can enjoy a meal. Auberge Handfield serves breakfast menus until 11 a.m. from Friday through Sunday, Dinner menus from Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., as well as a Sunday Brunch menu from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It also features live music and tractor-drawn sleigh rides on Saturdays and Sundays and pedestrian trails where you can go for a stroll before or after your meal. Call 450-584-2226 or visit aubergehandfield.com.
For those looking for more than just food…
If you want more than just dinner, head to La P’tite Cabane de la Côte (pictured right) in Mirabel on a weekend and enjoy performances by professional folk musicians. Ticket prices vary by the show, but include a full meal as well as taffy on snow. Other activities include tree-tapping demonstrations, sleigh rides and a mini-farm. Call 514-990-2708 or visit petite-cabane.com.
Chalet des Erables in Ste. Anne des Plaines probably has the most activities to offer with train and pony rides, a carousel, miniature cars, a mechanical bull, bumper cars and a petting zoo. There’s even a haunted house. Oh yes, and a full meal too. Call 450-478-0822 or visit chaletdeserables.com.
In Mont St. Grégoire, Érablière Charbonneau also offers a plethora of activities for kids and adults to enjoy before and after the meal, including pony and sleigh rides, a playground, a treetop Arbraska-style obstacle course, snowshoe trails, and a mini-farm. Call 450-347-9090 or visit erablierecharbonneau.qc.ca.
It’s impossible to be bored at La Goudrelle, in Mont St. Grégoire. There is a designated dance floor (so you won’t have to worry about twirling into tables), face painting, train rides around the grounds, playground, tractor and horse-drawn carriage rides, an arcade and mini-farm, as well as hiking trails. Call 450-460-2131 or visit goudrelle.com.
Many sugar shacks offer petting farms, but if the animals are a main attraction for your family, why not plan a day trip to the sugar shack in Parc Omega, in Montebello? Enjoy an up-close look at deer, bison, boars, bears and other Canadian wildlife through a 12-km safari-style tour through the 2,200-acre animal park, which includes a sugar shack stop. Enjoy taffy on snow or a taste of other maple products and warm up by the fire at the little cabin just a short, kid-friendly hike through the woods. Snowshoe rentals are available on site and horse drawn sleigh rides are also offered. There is no meal at this sugar shack, but you can bring food to eat at one of the picnic tables or dine at one of the restaurants on site. Feb. 22 to March 8 and March 14 to March 22, 2020, Parc Omega will be hosting their Spring Break Carnival, where families can enjoy its sugar shack, a giant outdoor slide, children’s face painting, and a festive igloo with music, all free. Don’t forget to bring a big bag of carrots to feed the deer. Call 819-423-5487 or visit parcomega.ca.
For those who don’t want to go off island…
Morgan Arboretum, in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, is celebrating the return of spring in its sugar maple grove with special events on March 15 and 29 and April 5, 2020, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Take a wagon ride to the sugar house, learn traditional syrup-making techniques, and enjoy a taste of taffy on snow. Freshly made maple syrup is sold on-site. Tickets are free for members and $4.50 for children, $5.50 for students and seniors and $8 for adults for non-members. Check the website or call in advance for information on the specific events for each date. Call 514-398-7811 or visit their website.
From March 19-22, 2020, take the family down to Verdun’s annual Cabane Panache et Bois Rond Festival for a taste of traditional live music, log-throwing, food tasting and maple taffy on snow. The festival is on Promenade Wellington between De L’Église and Rielle Sts. near metro De L’Église. For more information, visit promenadewellington.com.
The Botanical Garden is bringing back their full sugar shack menu again this season. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from April 3 to 26, the Botanical Garden restaurant will be offering completely vegetarian sugar shack meals for the whole family. The restaurant is also open on Easter Monday, April 13. The full menu will cost $16 plus tax, per person and a small portion menu is also available for $13 plus tax, per person. For more information, visit espacepourlavie.ca or call 514 872-2227.
If you wish the sugar-shack season was a year round affair…
The good times never stop at Sucrerie de la Montagne (pictured right) in Rigaud. Throughout the sugaring-off season, this busy sugar shack draws big crowds to the Quebec Heritage site that has been home to generations of maple syrup producers. But even in the heat of August or the cool days of fall, you can come and enjoy a full sugaring-off feast menu with a reservation. If there are more than 40 people in your group, the owners will pull out all the stops with horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides, live music and a campfire. Call 450-451-0831 or visit sucreriedelamontagne.com.
We asked our Facebook followers to weigh in on their favourite sugar shack; check out some of the responses below:
Cabane à sucre Marc Besner is buffet style so great for picky eaters. Depending on if you go for lunch or dinner, there’s face painting, sleigh rides and live music. We always have a great time – Gillian Skinner
Domaine Labranche is great and super accommodating for families with dietary restrictions. Every year we get vegetarian baked beans and veggie soup. Nice animal area and sleigh ride as well. – Sue Dibiaso
Been going to La Goudrelle in Mt St. Grégoire since I was a kid. Huge venue so you don’t feel like cattle being herded into a corral. Lots of fun stuff for the kids. Animals, tractor rides, taffy on snow, face painting and a huge room to dance the night away. My girls love this part. The food is fabulous. It is served to the table so you don’t have to get up unless you want pea soup 🙂 There is also a little shop to buy maple syrup goodies. I’ve been to other sugar shacks but they don’t compare. It’s a great Quebec spring activity. A definite must. – Suzy Aldous
Been to La Tablée des Pionniers which was by far the yummiest sugar shack I’ve ever been to, and it was very kid friendly. They also give you plastic containers to take home any leftovers. Hurry to make reservations as it books up really quickly. – Melina Tartaglia
I’ve been to several and érablière Charbonneau in Mont St. Grégoire was by far the best. The food was pretty standard but activities for kids were amazing. Lots of play structures. There is a huge park with Arbraska-like structures that you can do, so older kids and adults can have fun too. There are tractor rides through apple orchards, animals to visit and an apple cider store. We loved it and are going back this year. – Darlene Labelle
La P’tite Cabane de la Côte, in Mirabel, is lovely. It is not too big (you don’t feel like you’re in a big industrial maple factory), the food is amazing, and you can buy some of their maple treats to bring back home. – Geneviève Bowman
We’ve been to many as an entire family (with kids, aunts and uncles and even grandparents) and hands-down, we all love Chalet des Érables. The food and rides are great as is the unlimited taffy on the snow. Can’t wait to go this year. – Sheri Tobin