Like most maple producers, Ray had his first taste of making maple syrup on their large dairy farm in Southern Quebec with his brothers in the late 60’s. The farm had a medium sized maple forest (similar to most farms in the area) and when Ray’s older brother Aart took over the family farm in 1974, he erected a sugar house, and eventually was tapping 1,100 trees. Ray left home to study Forestry and Integrated Resource Management at Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and has provided science based information and guidance to the family sugaring operation since then. Coming home from classes during March break or study week to make maple syrup was a highlight of Ray’s college life.
After completing four years of post secondary education, Ray began a career with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in a variety of natural resource fields, progressively
rising to the position of Regional Director for all operations in Southern Ontario. In 1990, Ray was humbled to be given recognition by the Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario as his alma matter’s Most Outstanding Graduate. During his career, Ray was also recognized with many awards, most notably, nominations for the Premier’s Medal for outstanding public and volunteer service in 1993, and the Amethyst Award given by the Premier of Ontario for outstanding public service in 2001.
Vacations were spent back at the maple operation of his brother during sugaring time until Ray and his wife Carol Anne, started their own 1500 tap operation near Pembroke, Ontario, in 1998. With active involvement in the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association(OMSPA), Ray worked to further the goals and objectives of OMSPA taking on the role as President of the Ottawa Valley chapter of the association as well as sitting on the Provincial Board of Directors. From 2011 to 2015 Ray was the President of OMSPA, bringing in over $350,000 in grant funding to accomplish a myriad of initiatives to build the foundation to modernize the maple industry. Developing an understanding of the financial worth and strength of Ontario’s maple syrup industry as well as initiating a robust process to develop a marketing and promotion strategy for Ontario producers, which saw launching the “SWEET ONTARIO” brand, are but two of the notable achievements carried out during his term as President.
Membership in OMSPA rose from 280 to 530 during Ray’s tenure and the influence of maple producers was enhanced and strengthened with partners, government and academia. In 2017 Ray was given the AWARD of MERIT by OMSPA for his leadership, dedication and progressive approach of the maple industry. Ray is currently the Treasurer and the Co-Chair of Communications for OMSPA, handling government relations, partnership development, and is the media spokesperson.
In early 2010, Ray as appointed as OMSPA’s representative to the International Maple Syrup Institute (IMSI). Shortly after assuming his role as an IMSI Director, helped convince the IMSI Executive and Board to undertake a review and compilation of the nutritional and health benefits of maple syrup. This work was launched and resulted in the creation of a repository
of related research information as well as informative rack cards and posters on the benefits of the consumption of maple syrup . These resources were broadly disseminated to members of the IMSI and the North American Maple Syrup Council as well as others. This material has been used extensively by maple producers in the United States and Canada.
In 2011, Ray was appointed as the representative to the Canadian Maple Advisory Committee (Canadian Round Table), as Ontario’s representative. This
group of the four maple producing provinces, as well as major maple industry leaders in Canada, provide advice to Agriculture Canada on investing in international marketing and promotion as well as research. A dynamic group, Ray has been a steady and participative member, who looks to expand the maple markets for the greater good.
Ray was deeply concerned regarding the ongoing threat posed by invasive species and lead the development of a comprehensive position paper on invasive species on behalf of the maple industry, receiving IMSI Board endorsement in early 2014. A comprehensive high level marketing strategy was also led and authored by Ray, gaining formal endorsement by the IMSI in 2016. Having served a stint as First Vice-President, Ray assumed the IMSI President’s gavel on January 1st 2017. It was during his three year presidential term and under his leadership, that a formal maple themed marketing slogan for the North American maple industry was finalized , that the standards maple grades initiative was formally adopted in all jurisdictions and a Commission was launched to review the future of the IMSI .This involved conducting the selection process for a new Executive Director and overhauling the fee structure to help ensure the sustainability of the IMSI into the future.
Ray and his late wife Carol Anne operated a very successful “value added” maple business for many years and he is quick to point out that it is because of his wife, his brother Aart , and key family and friends that this is so. As to his roles in OMSPA and IMSI, most would share that Ray has had a large and enduring impact on OMSPA, the IMSI and by extension the entire North American Maple industry.
By Dave Chapeskie