Portrait of a passionate maple syrup producer : Christine Côté
This series is dedicated to CDL’s celebration of inspiring women who live and breathe maple syrup production. In this article, we introduce you to Christine Côté of the Érablière Côté Sucré in Coin-du-Banc, in the Gaspé Peninsula.
Christine Côté’s background is anything but ordinary. Like Obelix, she fell under the spell of agriculture as a child. But how did a little girl from L’Ange-Gardien in the Montérégie region, born to poultry farmers, end up creating the easternmost sugar bush in Quebec, overlooking the sea in the mountains of Val-d’Espoir in Coin-du-Banc near Percé?
“As a child, I was quiet and would follow my parents around on the poultry farm where we produced broilers and hatching eggs. The 80-person company was very close-knit, like a family. I was involved in everything, even as a child. My parents wanted us to get an education, so I did a degree in psychology. But I’ve always stayed involved in the company, even while I was in school.”
“I didn’t think I’d carry on the tradition at that point, but after I graduated my father suddenly found himself without a hatchery manager. He asked me to help out temporarily, and I said yes. That ‘temporary’ help lasted 21 years!” Not only has Christine learned a lot during her career, but she’s also had a second full-time job as a mother of three. On top of that, she’s involved in several different agricultural committees, making her a seasoned agricultural producer. “There aren’t many women on agricultural committees, and it’s a shame. Their vision would be an asset! I encourage all women in agriculture to get involved in places of power.”
So how did her maple sugaring journey begin? In 2013, Christine’s mother passed away and it was a huge blow. The year after, Christine needed some time to recharge her batteries and decided to take a year off. She left for the Gaspé Peninsula for the year, with husband Dominique Barabé (a longtime supporter) and their three children in tow. As the end of the sabbatical drew near, the family found that it had fallen in love with the region and decided to stay.
With that decision, the idea to start a sugar bush was born. “I saw this wonderful forest by the sea. It was untapped, but had huge potential. A friend told me about getting a start-up quota for public lands through the PPAQ quota system, and we were intrigued. I set up the project and it worked! In the summer of 2017, our project took shape. Oh, but Dominique and I had such a long way to go! Looking back, I’d say that we were pretty naive! Our piece of land didn’t have anything—no roads, no bridges, no shack—and I had never made maple syrup in my life. So it took a lot of hard work to make it to our first sugar season in 2018, with 10,000 taps! Of course, I have to thank Claude Fecteau, a CDL expert who helped us with so much good advice throughout our project. He’s been a true mentor. Without Claude, we would never have made it! From the beginning, all of our equipment has come from CDL. The closest branch is in Saint-Quentin, four hours away, so we keep a lot of parts in stock just in case! Claude Fecteau has since retired, and now Michaël Boucher is our CDL representative. It’s important to have good support.”
Christine and her partner, Dominique Barabé
Christine and Dominique have reached their goal of 20,000 taps. In fact, this year they have 20,820 taps in total! Their son, Thomas-Louis, works with them in the family business; their daughter, Béatrice, also helps out part-time, although she’s now an adult and has a full-time job outside the family business. Marie-Lili, who’s now in university, was behind the success of the production side of things during the pre-pandemic tourist seasons. She knows all the ins and outs of their stand along the side of Highway 132! For the past six years, the sugar bush has hired two full-time employees during sugaring season. If the first year was difficult, it was nothing compared to 2018, a disastrous season for all maple syrup producers in the Gaspé region. But the following years have been more successful, and Christine is confident that the future is bright.
In 2019, before the pandemic, the sugar bush was open to visitors and Christine loved meeting tourists from Europe who wanted to learn all about maple artisans and their products. Once travel from Europe picks up, the sugar bush will open its doors to visitors once again. In the meantime, they have several projects in the works. Christine is awaiting quotas for two projects totalling 16,000 taps and has plans to develop a sap loading station. By 2025, she expects that they’ll be carrying concentrate, not sap!
Christine is very grateful for all the help she’s received from some of the retirees in her area. “They’re incredibly dedicated and their help is invaluable! For example, I’m always amazed that when we’re up late boiling, one retired neighbour is kind enough to make us supper! And I think a business like ours in the region is more than just a simple sugar bush. It’s a social project that brings our little village closer together. I am very proud of the work we’ve accomplished in the last few years, all the more since we brought home the bronze at the Commanderie de l’Érable’s Grande Sève competition this year. It’s the fruit of a truly massive amount of work, and the medal belongs to everyone who helped us win it.”
Exterior view of the sugar bush
Christine loves sharing her passion for maple, too: “If you think about it, maple trees are producing a type of water when water’s becoming scarcer across the globe. The polyphenols found in maple syrup are recognized as important nutrients and we’re discovering more and more benefits every day. We’re starting to replace refined sugar with natural sweeteners like maple syrup. Quebec really needs to recognize the value of this incredible resource—which is like no other in the world—promote it, and above all, PROTECT it.”
CDL is incredibly proud to have a passionate maple syrup producer like Christine Côté as a client. You’re amazing, Christine! CDL will gladly remain at your side as your projects continue to grow.