When Muriel and Lucien Blais’ grandchildren come to visit they always request the same thing for breakfast: blueberry pancakes with Papa’s syrup.
The Blais have been sugaring — that is, making maple syrup — for three generations. Muriel’s great uncle Lazarre Bisson started tapping sugar maple trees in the ’20s with his nephew Armand Bisson and the Bisson Sugar House was born. That was back in the day of hand cranked drills and metal buckets.
Lucien and Muriel Blais when they first started making syrup
Sugaring season starts around March and April when the weather turns warm during the day but still freezes over night. “Warm” in the north country is around 40 degrees. On average, it takes 40 to 50 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup.
Little at Bisson’s Sugar House has physically changed since Lazarre and Armand first started. There are still the same benches, same sign, same wood-burning stove, same smell of split birch logs and sap. Sure, technology has advanced — Muriel and Lucien no longer collect sap in buckets, but use a system of plastic tubing to tap the trees — but for Berliners, Bisson’s remains a fixture in the community.
And the syrup, well, let’s just say that I have been eating a lot of pancakes lately.
StoryCorps is in Berlin, New Hampshire! It’s pronounced BER-lin and not Ber-LIN (the emphasis on the ‘BER’ as opposed to the way you might pronounce the capital of the nation of Germany). The pronunciation was changed, according to participant Paul “Poof” Tardiff, during World War I as a patriotic stand against the German enemy.
Poof is a resident historian here in Berlin, which is also know as “the town that trees built.” Berlin is a paper mill town. During its heyday in the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, five mills ran full time churning out paper goods. Each spring, according to Poof, men drove logs down the Androscoggin River to supply the mills with lumber. These men wore spiked boots and worked the fallen trees down river, separating the logs to be delivered to each mill by use of a series of boom piers, or man made islands, which still dot the Androscoggin River.
Paul “Poof” Tardiff
After long, harsh winters in the woods, loggers and river drivers flooded into the big city during log-driving season, transforming Berlin into a lively – and sometimes rowdy – place. Log drives ended in the 1960s and the last paper mill closed in 2006.
Today, Berlin is the throes of a new phase transitioning from a booming mill town into a smaller, quieter place. What is next for the town that trees built? We have three weeks to find out…
This week, the StoryCorps MobileBooth East left Lincoln Center and traded the bustle of midtown Manhattan for a view of the White Mountains and the sound of the Androscoggin River in the heart of New Hampshire’s North Country.
We kicked off a month of recording in our host city of Berlin with an ice cream social in Veteran’s Park, hosted by station partner New Hampshire Public Radio.
With cones of “Moose Tracks”-flavored ice cream, we welcomed people of all ages to see the MobileBooth and sign up to record a story. Above, StoryCorps’ Sara Esrick chats up three Berlin Junior High eighth graders.
The MobileBooth East team will be in Berlin until June 25. We look forward to listening to stories from young and old alike and to soaking up the fresh air of summer in the North Country.