At the annual general meeting on the Maple Producers Association of Nova Scotia held at Riverview Room, Jenkins Hall in Bible Hill on January 19, 2013, David Dickinson of West Brook, Cumberland County was inducted into the Nova Scotia Maple Hall of Fame.
David is a 4th generation sugar maker and his legacy began when his Great-Grandfather, David Dickinson, purchased 100 acres of Crown Land at a cost of $.44/acre in the 1880’s. That first sugar woods, of about 1,000 taps, produced until about 1912 when a forest fire burned from Shulie on the Chignecto Bay to the Maccan River, destroying everything in its path, including the sugar woods.
With the loss of those maple trees, David’s Grandfather, Chesley Dickinson, started buying excess maple syrup from other sugar makers in the Canaan and Mapleton areas and began marketing it. David’s father (Seymour), and Uncle (Karl) carried on this business along with having a small evaporator, 2 ½ feet by 6 feet and tapping about 300 roadside trees in the West Brook and Canaan areas. Seymour and Karl formed a partnership called Dickinson Bros. which David continues to operate under to the present day.
The outbuildings for this operation were located near the original house on the farm with the evaporator in one room and the second room used for bottling syrup and making cream and sugar. After the syrup was cooked on the finishing stove, the pans were put on the cold cement floor to cool. According to David’s sisters, he became immersed in the maple industry at a very young age. One day a pan of hot syrup had been set on the floor to cool when David fell into it. Seymour pulled him out and the men quickly began to take the steaming snowsuit off David and then his dad began running for the house with David screaming all the way. Afraid he had been badly burned, his father and mother checked him over from head to toe, but found no marks. When they finally got him calmed down, they learned that David had been upset because his favorite hat had fallen off in the run across the yard. Unfortunately, his father suffered severe burns on his hands when he grabbed him from the hot syrup and he was not able to do much during that season. He considered it, however, a small price to pay. Needless to say, the next day the men built a cooling bench where the pans could sit in snow far above any inquisitive toddlers.
In 1964 and 1965, David attended MacDonald College near Montreal which had an operating sugar bush. Professor Archie Jones was doing some of the early experimental pipeline work there at that time and in 1966, David’s first spring back on the farm, he purchased enough tubing from Dominion & Grimm for 50 taps. It was ¼ inch clear 3M tubing. The next year he put out 150 more taps with blue ‘Lamb’ tubing. This was all on a vented system that had to be taken down and washed every year, then put back up the next spring. By then, David, his Dad and Uncle were boiling from 500 taps and still purchasing syrup from other producers to make product which was sold around the province.
In the early 1970’s there seemed to be a renewed interest in the maple industry in Nova Scotia. Gordon Kinsman, who was then head of the Horticulture and Biology Section of the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Marketing contacted Fred Laing of the University of Vermont and made arrangements for David, his father Seymour and his father-in-law, Lorne Smith, to meet him in Vermont to see some of the operations there. They went very early in March and toured some maple operations but unfortunately it was a cold spell and none were actually boiling.
In 1972, the decision was made to expand and the first step was to lease a former sugar bush in Canaan. Then David and his Uncle Karl drove to Quebec and met with Bill Nicholson who was the dealer for Lamb tubing in Canada and while it was during the summer, Mr. Nicholson took them to several operations that were using oil-fired evaporators. David’s wife, Karen, and his Aunt Ruth can attest to the long waits in the car while Karl and David gleaned every bit of information they could from those producers.
In the fall of 1972 they built the sugar house which is still used today, ordered an oil-fired 12 x 5 foot evaporator with steam hoods and tubing. In 1973 they boiled from 1700 taps which rose to 3300 taps by 1974. They knew that they would be developing the sugar bush further, purchasing land next to the leased property, so a second oil-fired evaporator (14 x 5 feet) was purchased, also with steam hoods. For those of you too young to remember, furnace oil prices were just beginning to increase to the higher price of $.23/gallon, which was about $.05/litre. As the prices kept increasing, by the early 1980’s it was getting too expensive to continue on the same way with the two evaporators, so in 1982 David bought his first Reverse Osmosis machine, with one 8-inch membrane and two 4-inch membranes. It seemed to work pretty well, so the next year, David removed one of the oil-fired evaporators.
Since 1973, there has been a slow, but steady increase in the number of taps from 1,700 to the 19,000 he hopes to have tapped in the upcoming season. David is now on his 4th Reverse Osmosis and over the years he has added a pre-heater hood and air injection system, a filter press and a maple butter stirring machine. These are just a few examples of his continued updating of equipment. Propane stoves are used for cooking the syrup when making cream, sugar, butter and jelly.
Over the past 40 years David has changed the marketing from buying bulk syrup to selling some bulk syrup, as well as selling a lot of product directly from the camp. As well, several larger markets are supplied with product year round.
Over the years David has served in many leadership roles in the Maple and Wild Blueberry industries, other Commodity Associations, and the Nova Scotia Crop and Livestock Commission. David is a charter member of the Maple Producers Association, has served several terms on the Board of Directors and as MPANS President. He is always very willing to share his knowledge and experience with fellow producers, with bureaucrats, and the maple buying public.
David and Karen have three sons. Tim lives and works in Australia and David and Karen recently spent a month visiting him there. Andrew lives on the farm in West Brook with his wife and children (hopefully, the 5th and 6th generations on the farm). Dan lives and works in Toronto.
On behalf of the entire maple industry in Nova Scotia, the Maple Producers Association of Nova Scotia takes great pleasure in announcing that David Dickinson is the 2013 inductee into the Nova Scotia Maple Industry Hall of Fame!