OTTAWA -- Almonte has long been known as “The Friendly Town”. That’s the sign on the water tower.

Long before Almonte became the backdrop of many American Hallmark holiday movies, the magic of Christmas was quietly alive and well throughout the year.

Neighbours help neighbours. Small businesses support one another.

This year, that’s especially true. Just ask the owners of Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush.

Fulton's is located between Almonte and Pakenham—two special valley towns where people take care of one another.

On the charming, and sprawling, 400-acre sugar bush in Pakenham’s Cedar Hill, the maple trees provide the crop, the family the labour, and each spring, the customers flow into the lot as fast as the “sweet water” drips into the maple buckets.

This has been the delicious routine at Fulton’s for generations.

This year that all stopped due to the pandemic.

“The suddenness I think was what took us all by surprise,” says Shirley Deugo-Fulton, fourth generation in the family syrup business.

Shirley Deugo-Fulton

This spring, a record breaker for syrup production, ground to halt by COVID-19, keeping the customers away from Fulton’s and other small rural businesses too. 

The season, and all big plans, were lost, and self-employed employers were left scrambling to save some of the season.

“We had to pivot very quickly to serve our customers outside. We had trays of our product outside so they could pull up in their cars. We kind of had a drive-through in March,” says a reflective Deugo-Fulton.

“I was here every day just to meet my customers. The saddest part was when people would say, especially on Easter weekend, that they would normally come with 30 or 40 family members, for their Easter Sunday for dinner. They were so sad, and I would say please don’t cry because I will cry as well.”

There was time for tears, and also for action.

As another holiday approaches, Deugo-Fulton, and her children and grandchildren, the fifth and six generation of syrup producers, have sweet ideas to touch and nourish other families, while bolstering their family business.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and, let’s face it, during a pandemic pancakes count as a necessity!

If people couldn’t come to the pancake house, the family figured out a way to bring the pancakes into the customers’ kitchens.

“My son in law, Grant, who, with my daughter, Pamela, owns the Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm, just down the road. He’s an organic farmer and planted the most exquisite crop of beautiful wheat that is really low in gluten,” Deugo-Fulton said. 

“I said to Grant do you have lots because I’d like to try pancake mix. It’s very low in gluten so we did some experimenting we have a pancake mix so delicious you can taste the Cedar Hill soil and taste the sunshine. It’s so fresh from the field this year.”

“My son Scott said that with so many people working from home, we should package a ‘Breakfast Bundle’ (a kit with pancake mix, maple syrup, maple coffee etc.) so people can ‘have breakfast together—apart’.”

“That’s caught on. Several companies and organizations have purchased the bundles as Christmas gifts for staff.”

The Breakfast Bundles range in price from $45 to $65.

Fulton's Breakfast Pack

Like so many other businesses, Fulton’s is counting on on-line orders, and has a great system for pick-up too.

Vodkow with Maple Flavour

Although not intended to be served as part of the breakfast (but know, no one is judgmental), the Fulton’s maple syrup is a key ingredient in the Dairy Distillery’s new Vodkow Vodka Maple Cream Liquor.

The Almonte based distillery partnered with Fulton’s and launched the product last spring.

Along with the vodka, the distillery also specializes in the “spirit” of generosity. In the early days of the pandemic, they shifted their production to hand sanitizer. 

The Dairy Distillery team insisted the spring profits of the Vodka Maple Cream Liquor go to Fulton’s, since the sugar bush lost its season. (Deugo-Fulton paid that gift forward to another small family business.)

Dairy Distillery is all about supporting local. 

“Innovation is at the heart of what we do. So is a deep desire to champion our community and the environment. We’ve married artisanal distilling techniques with cutting-edge science to transform unused milk sugar into an incredibly smooth and clean spirit,” the Dairy Distillery says. “In doing so we create new opportunity for dairy farmers while reducing waste. We craft great spirits that do good.”

This holiday season you can raise a glass of local vodka cream with maple syrup.

Almonte Friendship Pack

And, says Deugo-Fulton, there are other flavours starring other local businesses too.

You can even purchase gift packages of charming bottles in a milk carton called “The Almonte Friendship Series.”

“Almonte is truly the friendly town. When we put down roots here, we were touched by the show of support from residents and local businesses,” Deugo-Fulton said.

“We were embraced by local makers like Equator Coffee, Hummingbird Chocolate and Fulton's Maple Syrup. To celebrate these friendships, we've created the "Almonte Friendship Series" “

It’s a collection of four 250ml bottles of Vodkow Cream liquor each featuring world class products from the area.

Priced at $45, the Vodkow Cream liquor pack can be purchased for delivery or directly at Dairy Distillery.