Ontario siblings – all U of T alumni – tap maple syrup hobby to build booming business

The Tomory family's connections to U of T run deep, with a total of 11 family members having attended the university

The Tomory family at Pefferlaw Creek Farms, from left to right: Tony, Melisande, John, Paul Sr. and Ben (photo by Phill Snel)

Every spring, the warming weather sees the tree sap run again, beckoning the Tomory family to renew their annual effort to harvest the quintessential Canadian product: maple syrup.

What started as a hobby farm has yielded sweet results for the siblings. Their 200-acre Pefferlaw Creek Farms, set in the rolling country hills near Zephyr, Ont., around 80 km northeast of Toronto, is the second-largest maple syrup producer in the province. 

The farm is owned and run by brothers John, Ben, Tony and Eugene Tomory, all of whom earned undergraduate degrees at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering – with John and twins Ben and Tony going on earn graduate degrees in engineering at U of T.

The Tomory family’s ties to U of T don’t stop there: two more brothers, Paul and Leslie, earned engineering degrees at U of T, while sister Melisande completed a degree in geology. Father Paul Sr. and his brothers Eugene and Nicholas also earned engineering degrees at U of T, while their mother Teresa completed the first doctorate in the family at the university in 1980.

In addition to U of T, another constant of the Tomory family has been maple syrup.

“We grew up in the country, and my parents had about 10 acres of property. There we would make maple syrup in the backyard,” says Ben. “It was something you did in the spring. Those first warm days after a winter, you could wear a T-shirt, running around collecting firewood and sap and eating sugar all day. That was my childhood and there was always kind of a, ‘Oh, it’d be great to do this for a living!’ and this kind of thinking about it.”  

Maple syrup is poured out of a metal ladle.
Maple taffy, a reduced maple syrup, is poured on a freezing table and rolled with a wooden stick for tasting (photo by Phil Snell)

Ben says the family purchased the farm as an investment in 2015. “I love the outdoors and nature, so we wanted to buy a property with a nice forest. We found this one. Basically, from there, we had the maple trees we needed," he says.

At the time, Ben had a job that allowed him to take six weeks of vacation, so he and the family decided to pour their time into building a maple syrup business. “Eleven years later, here we are.”

Pefferlaw has since gone from strength to strength. In the past year, the company rose from fifth to second in maple syrup production in Ontario thanks in no small part to the company being able to tap into the family’s collective engineering expertise – which spans the chemical, mechanical, civil and electrical engineering fields.

“We have the biggest evaporator in Ontario now. Reverse osmosis has penetrated the maple syrup industry quite a bit, and we are implementing a bunch of newer technologies with what we do,” says Ben. “All the process design within the facility has been 100 per cent an application of my education and even professional experience. That also goes for the installations in the forest because it’s plumbing design – it’s all kinds of fluid dynamics, vacuum pumps, transfer pumps, things like that.” 

A worker a silhouetted against a window with jars of maple syrup on it.
Ben Tomory sprays down equipment to clean it in the Pefferlaw Creek Farms barn (photo by Phil Snell)

The impressive main building, built during the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, is a red-roofed structure with concrete flooring, large timber framing and massive electrical wiring and piping for liquid transport.  

“It’s been a cool project to work on, and I was basically our project manager. This whole building is all building science,” says Ben, who has a decade of experience in construction.

He says the family's vision was to build a destination, not just a utilitarian facility. “We want to draw people in during the maple syrup season, so we moved an old barn here to our property and preserved a bit of Ontario heritage at the same time.”  

Glass jars of maple syrup sit in front of a window.
Rows of maple syrup samples adorn the window of the barn, appearing like stained glass (photo by Phil Snell)

The efforts have borne fruit, with Pefferlaw Creek Farms seeing a staggering uptick in visitors this past March, coinciding with the annual March break holiday for students in Ontario’s public schools.

With this surge in customers, several of the siblings and their father gather to tackle the demands. Activities include a tapping tour, maple taffy tasting in the sugar shack, syrup tasting and a pancake breakfast. On weekends there is live music to accompany breakfast.

With the grandchildren now teenagers, the operation sees all hands contribute to March break tours and operations, allowing three generations of Tomorys to come together in this sweet family business.

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