It’s maple syrup season here in YDH. Sugar shacks throughout our region are boiling down raw sap into that beloved gooey goodness, and people are flocking to maple festivals all over for a taste of this unique tradition. There is nothing more Canadian than maple syrup—except maybe that entrepreneurial spirit of giving everything up to follow your dreams, and turning one’s passion into a lifelong career. Well, we at York Durham Headwaters bring you a story that includes both. At Pefferlaw Creek Farms in Uxbridge, four pioneering brothers are hard at work in their sugar shack, and are sharing their passion for all things maple with everyone who comes to visit their family farm.
What is so entrepreneurial about running a maple farm, you might ask? Prepare to be amazed—the Tomory brothers, three in total, quit their jobs as full-time engineers to pursue this dream! That’s a huge leap. “We bought the farm in Uxbridge in 2011,” says John Tomory, the first brother to leave his career for life in the sugar bush. “Four years later we decided that there is an opportunity here with the number of maple trees we had on the property. So, we started tapping the trees.”
Incredibly, the Tomory clan has been making maple syrup since they were kids. It has been a family tradition that was taught to the siblings—five brothers and one sister—by their father. On John’s parents’ property in Stouffville, where the Tomory siblings all grew up, there were about twelve acres from which they collected sap for their first year of production. “It was on a really small scale that first year,” he recalls. “The smallest we ever did was twenty or thirty taps, that we collected in pails which we hung from the tree.” Those pails were carried by hand back to the house, and the sap was boiled down the old-fashioned way.
But there were more trees to tap, and as John admits, production is a bit of an addiction. “Once you get started, you just can’t stop,” he laughs. “If you have access to the trees, you want to tap them all. So basically, we tapped every maple tree on my parents’ lot before we bought our own farm.”
At this time, making maple syrup was just a hobby though, saved for evenings, weekends and vacation. John says, “It was a very busy hobby at that point because we went from having a hundred, or a hundred-and-fifty buckets on trees at my parents’ property, to having two-and-a-half thousand taps in our forest here. It became quite a time-consuming hobby.” After the first year, though, John admits that he and his brothers simply became hooked. When an opportunity to tap another forest arose, they jumped at the chance.
“We figured that it was time to get a little more skin in the game,” he says. “I quit my engineering job to work on the business full-time—that was the first big leap. But once we had that first expansion under our belt, another big forest came available to us and we expanded there. And then the following year my brother Ben quit his engineering job and joined, and we got access to another forest, so the tap count grew. By now we’re at about forty thousand trees, and my third brother Gene has joined, too.”
This incredible expansion hit an unfortunate setback when, in 2022, they purchased a second piece of land that was devastated by the May storm which reached the Uxbridge area, destroying quite a number of buildings, vehicles and natural spaces. For Pefferlaw, the storm resulted in the destruction of about ten thousand trees—an enormous portion of active maple syrup producers. “Purchasing this other land was supposed to be an expansion, and this was supposed to be our first year up there,” John says. “But in effect, our first year has been spent replacing what we lost. It’s been a very trying year, but we’re just happy to be able to replace what we lost, and there’s still growth potential, and we hope to continue adding taps as we go.”
Of course, quitting a stable and lucrative job as an engineer brings with it much anxiety. John admits that the first year was a risk, considering that most start-up businesses don’t make it through that initial time period. It took three years for the business to become secure enough that the anxiety subsided for him. But with that anxiety came excitement, and the timing was certainly right in his life to be able to take the risk he did. John says, “It’s turning passion into a profession. That’s a really wonderful thing and I was very fortunate to be able to do that when I did. At the time, I was still living at my parents’ place. I did not have a significant other, and I didn’t have any dependents. Now all of those things have changed, and I would not be able to do it at this stage in my life, not with a wife and two children. It wouldn’t work.”
In total, there are five Tomory brothers, all of whom are engineers. Three—John, Ben and Gene—have quit their jobs to work full time for the business. A fourth, Tony, spends much of his free time helping out wherever he can, and is eager to follow in his brothers’ footsteps when the time is right. The oldest Tomory brother, Paul, is a silent investor in the business, and Melisande, the Tomorys’ sister, is also involved. “She is the one actively organizing our maple syrup festival here,” John explains. With the frequent involvement of their parents, whom John states simply can’t help themselves, Pefferlaw Creek Farms truly is a family business.
Pefferlaw’s famous Maple Festival took about three years to get off the ground. “When we first started, we just didn’t have the facilities,” John recalls. “When we bought the farm, there was just an old drive shed on the property. We thought we would just use that as our first spot where we’d make syrup. It was pretty rough, those first years. We had power, but the shed wasn’t insulated. So the wind would be whistling through there, and we’d be boiling until midnight and freezing while we did because it was so cold.” Eventually the Tomory brothers managed to build another building on site, at which point they decided to start welcoming people to the farm. “That was always something I was very passionate about, because agritourism is awesome,” John states. “We love showing other people what we do.”
After four years, things are really moving for the Pefferlaw Maple Festival. John and his brothers, and sister Melisande, are thrilled to hear that visitors are coming back year after year, making their Maple Festival a tradition. Beginning the weekend of March 4th and 5th, you are invited to the sugar bush to soak in the sights, sounds and sweet smells of this quintessentially Canadian tradition. There will be tapping and sugar shack tours, hiking, a delicious pancake meal with real maple syrup, and an old-time evaporator to show how maple was made “back in the day.” The festival runs through to the weekend of April 8th and 9th. Booking ahead is not required, but guests are encouraged to check Pefferlaw’s website for details. Don’t forget to bring your boots!
And, if coming to the farm during maple season ignites your passion for farming and for all things maple, you are invited to book a tour anytime throughout the year at Pefferlaw Creek Farms. We agree wholeheartedly with John: agritourism is definitely awesome… especially when it tastes like maple syrup!
Check out the video below to learn more about Pefferlaw Creek Farms!
Pefferlaw Creek Farms
12300 Concession Rd. 6, Uxbridge
Story by Katherine Ryalen