Vernon Wheeler started working in the sugar bush at age 6 near Snow Road on his family’s farm. In 1978 Vernon and his wife Judy tapped their first trees at the present site on the Highland Line. They collected sap from 2,300 taps their first year. Since the beginning, their son Mark and daughters Angela, Kristen, and Tracy have been an active part of the growth of the Maple operation. As the children grew, so did the number of taps that they collected from to make maple syrup.
The Wheelers had many visitors to their sugarhouse to see how pure maple syrup is made. Over the years Vernon received countless requests for pancakes. With grand visions, high hopes and a touch of gumption the decision was made to open a hall to serve pancakes with Wheeler’s own maple syrup. In 1994 Vernon started combing the countryside for old barns to reclaim the log walls to be used in constructing the new pancake house and sugar camp. Wheelers also harvested some trees from their sugar bush property to be sawed into lumber for the project. During the Winter of 1994/1995 a local log home builder, Brian Roberts, crafted the recycled cedar logs into the walls for the new building. He also used freshly harvested spruce trees from the Wheeler property to construct grand rafters for the dining hall. The foundation was started in late April 1995 and construction continued through to February 1996. The whole family, along with friends and local contractors, worked to finish the new Pancake House and Sugar Camp building. The official opening was on March 1st, 1996.
The Pancake House was initially open only during March and April and for a couple of weekends in the Fall. After the devastation of Ice Storm ’98, and it’s impact on maple syrup production, the decision was made to diversify by staying open all year round. That same year the Wheelers opened a large network of nature trails to their visitors. The sugar bush is located in the midst of cottage country and is also connected to the web of local snowmobile trails, making it an ideal maple themed destination for visitors all year round.
In the year 2000, Wheelers Maple Heritage Museum was built to house Vernon’s collection of antique maple related items. This time Vernon did the dove-tail log work himself and the rest of the family helped out with all the other work. The museum is built on the site of the old sugar camp, so the original structure was moved to the other side of the yard and now houses the Logging and Chainsaw Museum. In 2010 Parks Canada unveiled a plaque at the Maple Museum commemorating the Canadian Governments designation of Maple Products as a Culturally Significant Heritage Event.
Over the years production has also expanded and Wheelers Sugar Bush is now one of the largest producers in Ontario with over 15,000 trees tapped. Over 200 kilometres of pipeline is used to transport maple sap to the Sugar Camp where it is boiled into pure maple syrup. The latest in equipment and technology is used to produce maple products that meet the high quality standards that Vernon expects of every litre of maple syrup that carries the Wheelers label.
Along with his love for making maple syrup, Vernon always had a goal of building an operation that the whole family could be involved in. At any time there is sure to be several family members working in the pancake house or somewhere on the property. During the busy spring season the whole family comes together to bring in the year’s crop and serve up pancakes. Each of Vernon and Judy’s now adult children are involved in all aspects of the operation along with their spouses and children, and Vernon’s nephew Tim. The whole family loves working together and honour the opportunity of welcoming visitors to share in the great Canadian tradition of Maple Sugarin’.