Long before the European settlers came to North America, the Indian tribes of eastern Canada and north-eastern United States discovered something interesting. They learned how to gather the sap from maple trees and make it into syrup. The legend goes that one spring day, a squirrel climbed up a maple tree, bit into a branch and drank. An Indian looking up from under the tree wondered why the squirrel was doing this; There was a freshwater spring nearby. Deciding to imitate the squirrel, he made a slash in the tree with his knife. What a surprise! The only sugar his tribe had ever tasted until then had been wild fruit. Now, here was a tree that wept sweet, crystal tears!
What’s more, he had found a cure for the scurvy that often plagued his people in the spring. And all because he had watched a squirrel quenching its thirst with maple sap… and followed its example!
This brief legend of how maple syrup was discovered is confirmed by the great Quebec naturalist and scholar Marie-Victorin, who wrote and illustrated an early Quebec herbal, Flore laurentienne. He clearly states that the Indians discovered maple syrup and taffy thanks to a red squirrel.
The sap from this natural “tap” continually follows the same path. The sap runs right down to the base of the tree. Day after day, the water evaporates under the warm spring sun, leaving a trail of maple taffy – which the red squirrels gobble eagerly.