“There’s a crazy little shack beyond the tracks. And everybody calls it the sugar shack…”
In Canada, the land of maple syrup, the sugar shack is a building where sap from the sugar maple is boiled to produce maple syrup. This sweet treat is produced in eastern Canada, primarily in the province of Quebec.
However, in the 1960s sugar shacks could also be found on the western prairies. And yes, every little town in Saskatchewan had one.
The sugar shack was a thing of enormous mystery. It seemed to be founded by the males of the species and the exact location was always shrouded in secrecy. Whenever the topic of the sugar shack was discussed amongst my high school classmates, I would pester the boys – imploring them to let me in on the big secret. I was told that it was a boys-only clubhouse and that they, and only they knew the location of it and were the only ones who could enter inside its hallowed walls. Defeated, I accepted that explanation until I found out that one of my girlfriends who lived in town knew all about it and had even been inside! Now I’m being told a slightly different story by the boys. Now they tell me that sometimes the girls from town get a special invitation to see the clubhouse but I live too far away on a farm. Well, I’m having none of that! I approach one of the boys afterward and insist that he take me to the sugar shack. Reluctantly, he agrees to take my friend and me to show us the place.
I’m really excited to solve the mystery of the sugar shack: where is it? What does it look like? What goes on there? I fully expect to find the sugar shack somewhere in the bush, possibly beside the railway tracks. Much to my surprise, we are escorted to the opposite end of town. And there it is, an unassuming building hidden in plain sight. It’s just up the hill on the southeastern edge of downtown, two houses away from my relatives’ house. And it may be small, but it’s not a shack at all!
Instead of the rundown shack situated in some covert location in the woods, we enter what appears to be a newly-constructed tiny house. The room itself is sparsely furnished with a table, a couple of chairs, and even a bed.
“So, what do you guys do here?” I ask innocently.
“Oh, we mostly just hang out here, talking and reading comics,” replies our host. Sometimes, we get somebody to pull us a case of beer. And, of course, nobody can see us,” he continues, pointing to the curtained windows, “so we can smoke here anytime.”
“Well, we better be going!” he says abruptly. Girls aren’t allowed here. And I’m one of two guys who has keys to this place. If somebody else wants the key, I don’t want them to see you girls here. Don’t tell anyone I took you here,” he pleads.
What really went on there? Was it really a clubhouse for prairie boys to hang out with their buddies while reading comic books and drinking beer? Or was it more like a love shack where, far removed from parents’ prying eyes, they would take their ‘sugar’?
Wait. What’s that sound I hear? Oh, I believe it’s the collective snickering of seniors reliving their adolescent dreams in a prairie sugar shack. Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. I really don’t know the answer. All I know is that there wasn’t so much as an ounce of maple sugar produced there.