“L’Érablière Saint-Henri is on Chemin Saint-Henri in Sainte-Marthe, but it’s better if you just say Sainte-Marthe. There’s another Sainte-Marthe that has a road called Saint-Henri. I know because my barrels often end up there!”
Making Cheese and Finding Love in Suroît
This story begins in Warwick where six-year-old François Béliveau is helping Grandpa at sugaring time. “We had 120 buckets on trees. The boiler was outside, and Grandma would finish the syrup in the cellar. It probably wasn’t exactly at 66° Brix,” he says with a laugh. The second chapter is set in Saint-Hyacinthe where he studies to become a maple producer at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire du Québec. Then comes the love story. In the Suroît region west of Montréal, François has a job making cheese for a large dairy cooperative when he meets Marie-Claire, who became his wife. The fourth (and current) chapter takes us to Sainte-Marthe in 1998, with the couple starting their family business, now producing syrup from 18,000 taps, hosting guests in their 80-seat sugar shack, serving 200 meals to area schools, and operating a catering service. Love and maple syrup go together!
An Icy Start
In an echo of his childhood, François was soon helping his future father-in-law make maple syrup from a few hundred trees on rented land in Sainte-Marthe. In 1997, he bought the land and all its 3,000 taps. That was only the beginning. That autumn, he installed another 15,000 taps and upgraded the original 3,000. They officially opened the doors to their commercial sugar shack and were ready to make it big. But, as the saying goes, life is what happens when you’re making other plans: The North American Ice Storm of 1998 hit southern Québec… and hit Érablière Saint-Henri hard. “We had to start all over again,” recalls François, “and on top of that, in 2000, I had to fight RMAAQ to get even one dollar a pound for my syrup.” They managed to get the business going in 1997-1998, with the couple continuing to work other jobs to cover all their expenses.
The Love Story Lives On
Since 2000, François and Marie-Claire have been living the dream and sharing it with their four children. They all work together in the family business. “Three of them are with us full-time and the other during sugaring season,” says the proud papa. Jean-François is in charge of production and forest management while Marie-Josée handles the kitchen and the youngest, Mireille, manages customer service for the schools and catering. And, with seven grandchildren growing up, the future of Érablière Saint-Henri looks bright!
Approaching 25 Years in the Movement
“I got involved because I felt like we had no rights. Having to fight for just a dollar a pound made no sense to me.” Starting as an administrator of the Montérégie-Ouest chapter of QMSP in 1999, François became vice-president one or two years later and was elected president in 2022, taking the place of the venerable Serge Beaulieu. After almost 25 years of service to maple producers, François Béliveau says, of the many issues that they face, the one that motivates him most is promotion. “I believe that our current and future success depends on promoting maple syrup both here at home and around the world. We have a magnificent product!”