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Traditional skill recorded on DVD

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, May 21, 2007

HAY RIVER - The springtime tradition of making birch syrup has been recorded for Northern students - and for posterity - on a new DVD.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Frederick Beaulieu, a Metis elder in Hay River, displays the new DVDs that show him collecting birch sap and making syrup from it. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

In 2005, Frederick Beaulieu, a Metis elder in Hay River, was filmed collecting birch sap and boiling it down to syrup.

Beaulieu said the 16-minute DVD - "Thumper Creek Birch Syrup Company" - shows him collecting the sap at a stand of trees south of Hay River towards the Alberta border.

"I'm willing to teach," he said, adding he hopes the DVD will be useful for students and anyone else interested in learning about the tradition.

Beaulieu, 68, said it took four days to record the images for the DVD.

"The hardest part is bringing the sap out of the woods," he noted, adding it is not as much work while it is boiling and he even plays his button accordion to pass the time.

Beaulieu credits the birch syrup with being good for his health, noting he feels good even after knee replacement, a hernia and stomach cancer.

This spring, he collected 1,530 litres of sap, which produced 18 litres of syrup.

The DVD about Beaulieu's skill was produced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), which supported the project with about $7,000.

"The knowledge he holds is traditional knowledge and is very significant," said Beatrice Lepine of ENR's forest management division.

Lepine said she read a news article about Beaulieu a couple of years ago and decided his knowledge, which she describes as an art, should be recorded for schools.

"It's something people are becoming interested in again," she added. "For all of us, it is important."

ENR commissioned Frederick Lepine, a Hay River filmmaker now living in Vancouver, to create the DVD.

A package - containing the DVD, spigots for trees and a lesson plan prepared by Mike Mitchell, an outdoor educator on contract with ENR - has been sent to 12 schools this year. It will be distributed to all schools in the NWT next year.

Beatrice Lepine hopes the DVD will help bring the outdoors into the school curriculum.

"It's important to get children out into the boreal forest and appreciate the benefits that we receive," she said, adding there is much more to forests than timber.

She also noted learning about birch syrup making will help students develop other skills such as math, science and social studies.

Two hundred of the DVDs have been produced, and another 200 are planned.