By: Deanne Dickson

There is more to the uniqueness of the Belmore community than its geographical location, although that is noteworthy. At the intersection of Huron-Bruce Road and County Road 12 in Belmore, four townships and two counties meet. Howick, (South east corner, and Turnberry (South west corner) are in Huron County; Carrick, (North east corner) and Culross, (North west corner) are both in Bruce County and are now known as South Bruce.

The little village of Belmore, the ‘Hamlet with Heart’ that has a population of just shy of 100 people, is the center of this community. Though not incorporated as a municipality, Belmore has continued to maintain its own identity and Community Centre, entirely with volunteer labour and community funding. The Community embodies families from all of the surrounding municipalities who participate and contribute to the Community in various ways.

The Belmore Community Centre is literally that – the centre of this community and most of the functions and the work necessary to make them successful, take place here. The Centre includes the arena with skating/hockey ice, curling ice, auditorium, library and a fully equipped kitchen, as well as outdoor facilities: playground, two ball parks, picnic shelter, outdoor booth and tennis courts, all situated on approximately five acres of land.

The community survives, and thrives, because of the willingness of its people to work together with community welfare as the common goal. In this mix of people of every age, with varied interests and abilities and of several different faiths, you are likely to experience wholesome mutual respect and good humour; whether you are working or visiting.

Community groups include: a Chamber of Commerce; four Catering groups; Baseball, Hockey and Curling and a Community Choir among others.
Perhaps our one claim to fame is our history of volunteerism. We were paid a noteworthy compliment this spring when, just after the Maple Syrup Festival, a frequent visitor in our community during the past two years said that we are “the embodiment of what community really means”.

The Belmore Maple Syrup Festival is the single largest annual community event; it takes place on the second Saturday in April each year, and the Thursday of the same week. In 2012, we will celebrated our 45th Festival. We expect to serve over 6,000 meals at this year’s Festival as we have each year since 2005.

Words seem inadequate to describe the volunteers who have worked tirelessly for many years to preserve our way of ‘living in community’. Back in 1968, taking a leap of faith, a decision was made to undertake to have a Maple Syrup Festival. The objective that first year was to raise money to repair the roof of the existing Community Centre, which had been built in 1951.

Each year since then, community people have willingly undertaken Festival preparation again – working days and days for no personal gain but for the benefit of all. A number of people, who are pillars of the community, have made that commitment and followed it through for every Festival to date. Younger people of our community who first remember coming to the Festival as kids, particularly enjoying the pancakes and sausage – and maybe the balloons! – are now great contributors to our community and to the Festival.

Of course, the main attraction, in addition to the opportunity to spend time with friends from near and far, is our delicious made-from-scratch Belmore pancakes and sausage served with maple syrup, homemade applesauce, and – if you wish – homemade pie for dessert.

The pancake mix is prepared in our kitchen using approximately 600 kg of flour. On Festival day the dry pancake mix is combined with 200 dozen eggs and 700 liters of milk and mixed as needed, delivered to the grills and then unto plates, which come to visitors via our conveyor belt.
The sausage is prepared specifically for our Festival from pork supplied by our committee and processed by Green’s Meat Market and Abattoir of Wingham. Approximately 3,700 pounds of small sausage are made for each year’s Festival. 20 bushels of apples are made into applesauce. The maple syrup that we serve is purchased from producers in our community.

In addition to good food, the Belmore Festival also offers local musical entertainment Thursday and Saturday. There is a Maple Syrup-making demonstration; activities for kids; Craft booths are located in the curling area, the arena and in the auditorium. Bingo, when available, is played in the Library.

Courtesy Vans provided by Howick Mutual Insurance, Trillium Mutual, Leslie Motors and Walkerton Toyota allowed us to offer rides from your parked vehicle – sometimes a good distance away – to the front door. For people who have limited mobility, help is available to park your car, and then return it to you when you are ready to leave. Those who arrived by bus were greeted before they disembarked by Barry Mulvey or one of his great crew, who explained the set up in the building, where the washrooms are, and other essential information.

We consider each Festival a celebration of the community spirit that is our tradition, and the strong, healthy place that we proudly call home. We feel truly blessed as a community and we know we have much to celebrate.

Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds will work together to make you welcome in our ‘Hamlet with Heart‘ during our Belmore Maple Syrup Festival and indeed any time you are here. We hope you will enjoy country hospitality at its best in Belmore !!!

The Belmore Community Centre is literally that – the centre of this community and most of the functions and the work necessary to make them successful, take place here.

Webster’s Dictionary defines community as:  “A body of people living near one another and in a social relationship, a village community”.  Perhaps our one claim to fame is our history of volunteerism.  In 2002, the Belmore Festival received a certificate of recognition from the Government of Canada via Paul Steckle, M.P. ‘for outstanding service and contributions as volunteers’.  We were paid a noteworthy compliment when, around the time of the Maple Syrup Festival, a frequent visitor in our community during the past two years said that we are “the embodiment of community”.

The original Belmore Memorial Community Centre was constructed during the summer months of 1950, the ice surface was ready for skating by December and the Official Opening took place on November 8, 1951.

During 1967, when it became apparent that the roof of the building needed to be replaced, the idea of a Maple Syrup Festival was suggested, although in 1967, many of the people in the community had never attended, or even heard of, a maple syrup festival.  Making maple syrup, however, was something that many community people knew how to do!

Since the first settlers arrived in this area of Ontario, maple trees and the sweet spring- time crop of sap and thence maple syrup were a valued natural resource.  The sap was first collected by means of a sap trough, which was made by hollowing out a short log – about two feet long.  A slit was made in the bark of the maple, usually on the south side, and a spile made of a piece of wood about five inches long and grooved, was driven into the slit, allowing the sap to drop or run into the trough fastened below.  An iron kettle would have been hung from a green pole, which was suspended between the notches of two heavy sticks driven into the ground.  As soon as the kettle was filled with sap, a fire was built under the kettle, and the boiling began.  The syrup was taken into the house and strained and ‘finished off’ on the kitchen stove.  It was often boiled until it was maple sugar, and made into cakes, which were easy to store.  Gradually, tin pails and metal spiles replaced the homemade ones, and a larger rectangular pan replaced the old black kettle, which was itself replaced eventually by an evaporator.

In the spring of 1968, recognizing that we had a significant number of roadside maple trees in our area, Walter Renwick and Bruce Harkness went for a Sunday drive to count those roadside maples. It wasn’t long before a community meeting was held to discuss the idea, and soon there was lots of talk about a festival!  Enthusiasm is contagious, and almost every family in all four corners of the community agreed to get involved.  A wood fired evaporator that was not currently being used was retrieved from a neighbour’s maple bush, moved to Belmore and set up in the ‘Sugar Shack’.  Sap buckets were brought out of storage and washed, and containers were found to transport the sap to Belmore.  Sap from about 3,000 taps – mostly roadside maples but some fence line and maple bushes as well – was hauled to Belmore to the ‘Shack’, where the maple syrup was made. Wood to fuel the evaporator was supplied by Otto Hohnstein, from his sawmill in the village.

Maple sap is a very weather-dependent product, but that spring, with near ideal conditions, sap was continually arriving at the Shack. Volunteers were kept busy, often working round the clock tending the fire and keeping tabs on the syrup making. Approximately 725 gallons of maple syrup were produced, and this supplied the Festival and allowed for a good amount to be sold at the ‘Sugar Shack’, at the local store and at the Festival for $7.50 a gallon.

In preparation for the first Maple Syrup Festival, a Food Committee was one of the groups who met to make plans.  This included Elma Mulvey, Berdella Kieffer, Margaret Busby and Mary Renwick Sr.  In order to decide on a recipe for pancakes, each of them brought a recipe they used.  From these samples they chose one that would become our almost-famous Belmore Festival pancakes.  Berdella tells us that she doesn’t know whose recipe was used, and that is, perhaps, a good thing.  We know that it came from this committee and that it has served us well !

1968     MENU    1968
Meal: Adults $1.25   Children  .75
INCLUDES – PANCAKES, SAUSAGES,
MAPLE SYRUP and COFFEE OR MILK.
Pie .25   Pie with Ice Cream .30

In the spring of 1969, the decision had been made to make this an annual event, “at least for this year”!!  Oil replaced wood as fuel for the evaporators, volunteers still tended the evaporators and local families brought in the sap to be boiled.

By the spring of 1970, Mary and Walter Renwick and their family had ownership of the Sugar Shack and purchased the sap from families who brought it to the Shack.  The sap was measured and tested for sugar content, and priced accordingly. The Renwicks supplied the syrup for the Festival until 1987 and also made maple sugar candy, and other maple products.

Prior to the Festival in 1972, Alan Darling designed and manufactured a conveyor belt to carry the plates of pancakes from the grills to the dinner line where they would be handed to those waiting.  Alan used a gearbox from a Case Forage Harvester and a roller that was manufactured for a Minneapolis Moline combine.  He was able to adapt these items, which were donated by Peter Mulvey.  The conveyor belt often brings comments from visitors to the Festival.  It has served us well these many years – from 1972 until 2012!!.

In the fall of 1976, the Belmore Memorial Community Centre, like many others in the province, was declared unsafe for public use.  This of course, presented a problem for us.

Barry Mulvey who was Chairman of the Arena Board, with the help of Murray Gaunt, our M.P.P. at the time, arranged a meeting with the Minister of Labour.  At that meeting in Toronto, permission was given to keep the arena open until April 17, 1977 – the Festival was scheduled for April 16, 1977 – with the community and the municipality responsible for monitoring the snow load.

The April 16, 1977 Festival, now took on a new significance, not only because it would be the tenth Festival, but it would also be the last event to take place in the existing arena.  April 16, 1977 was an especially memorable day, partly due to its significance as the last day that our familiar old arena would be used for a public event, but also because of good sportsmanship and a lot of fun at our tenth Festival, and an unmistakable air of excitement and anticipation.

Immediately after the Festival, on April 18, 1977, the process of tearing down the Belmore Memorial Community Centre was started.

Soon after the Opening Ceremonies of the new Belmore Community Center in January, planning for the 1978 Maple Syrup Festival was started. Some reorganizing was necessary because of the changes in the building since last Festival. It is noted in the minutes that ‘Decisions will have to be made as we get to the work of actually setting up for Festival day’.

Meal price was set at $2.75 for adults and $1.50 for children under twelve.

Festival day was April 15, 1978, and even though – to quote a local paper – “the weather man threw the book at us,” we had a record crowd.  3,723 meals of delicious, made-from-scratch Belmore pancakes with sausage and maple syrup were served.  Even the snow did not dampen the enthusiasm and wonderful atmosphere that were created during our first successful Festival in our new building.

In 1997 we did a survey of Festival attendees (first one of three to date), with a chance to win some maple syrup offered to all who filled out the brief survey.  From 600 surveys asking for suggestions to improve the Festival, 359 respondents said “Great”, “Don’t change a thing”.  The one improvement that was suggested 57 times was that we find a way to improve the ventilation. In 1998, a large ventilation hood was installed over the stoves and sausage grills. This was a very significant improvement for the Festival.

During the summer of 2006, special meetings were held to discuss ideas and projects for the fortieth Festival, which would take place in April of 2007.
The irony of meeting in the Community Center to make plans for our 40th Belmore Maple Syrup Festival at exactly the same time as the work to replace the roof was going on overhead, was not lost on us!  After all, needing to replace the roof was the very reason the Festival came to be !!!

A Committee including Barry Mulvey, Jane Raper and Deanne Dickson, was organized to undertake a project to preserve some of the stories and memories.  With the expertise and assistance of Tim Cummings, we contacted members of the community to ask for their participation. The intention was to interview people in groups of two or three in a relaxed atmosphere to record recollections of people from different ages with different involvement in the Festival and the Community. This reminiscing was recorded, so the voices and images of those involved is now preserved.  We included people who were key players in the first Festival who are still involved; people from the community who first attended the Festival as children who now participate as adults; and people who have become part of the community since the first Festival.

Everyone was asked for their opinion about factors in our longevity, significant changes they’ve seen, and their thoughts about the future of Belmore Festival. Each group was also asked about the particular roles they play or have played.

We also compiled information from Festival #1 up to and including Festival #40 into a book.  The book included information about all other significant community events and places including sports teams over the years, businesses, churches and community groups. Some copies of the book are still available; they will be at the Maple Products booth during Festival.

It seems fair to say that Belmore Maple Syrup Festival from
Day One, is a testimonial to what can be achieved
when spirit, dedication and some fun are combined with
a great idea and a lot of hard work.
We are thankful for the blessings we have experienced…
days of celebrating community and renewing friendships,
the challenges and the satisfactions,
the fun and rewards of hard work for the common good,
and the wonderfully diverse and dedicated people
who make up this community.
Few of us, rank amateurs forty five years ago
when we pooled our efforts and resources to host the first Festival,
would have thought that the Festival would not only survive this long,
but be still growing and going strong.

* * *

Photos by Deanne Dickson