Quebec's iconic sugar shacks are empty as owners face an uncertain future
MONTREAL -- Quebec's sugar shacks, which are home to one of the province's most iconic industries, are struggling to stay afloat during a time of year when they would normally be at their busiest.
At the Chalet des Erables sugar shack in Ste-Anne Des Plaines, which would usually be filled with maple sugar-fuelled children on a mid-December day, nobody is around. Owner Daniel Laurin said times are getting desperate.
“We had to sell our house and a lot of our assets to get some cashflow to get through the pandemic,” he said. “We don't know how long this is going to last.”
A recent study led by the Association of Cabanes A Sucre reception says found 75 per cent of traditional restaurant sites are closing down because of the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sugar shack owners are calling on the government to issue them grants, not just loans.
“At $50,000 a month of fixed expenses, a year is $600,000, plus the money we lost, which is another $300,000. So we're down $1 million and if we don't have a season this year, we'll be down by $1.5 million,” said Laurin. “I'm 62, my daughter was supposed to take over, but I have to stick around another five to 10 years.”
The Quebec government has said the sugar shack industry is eligible under a subsidy program where they can be reimbursed up to $15,000 per month for fixed costs, but Laurin said that's too little, too late.
He estimated that only 53 sugar shacks will survive in the province once the pandemic ends. While he hopes to be among those for the sake of his business and his 300 employees, he said the future is uncertain.
“Like all the other restaurants, we haven't received a penny,” he said. “We're kind of drowning. They have the life jacket but we never get it.”