May 6, 2024 | Alumni

U of T Engineering alumni siblings tap a maple syrup venture

By Phill Snel

The Tomory family in front of their red-roofed barn at Pefferlaw Creek Farms

The Tomory family, left to right: Tony, Melisande, John, Paul Sr. and Ben gather in front of their iconic red-roofed barn at Pefferlaw Creek Farms in March 2023. Photo by Phill Snel.

Every spring, the warming weather sees the tree sap run again, beckoning the Tomory family to renew their combined annual efforts. Harvesting the quintessential Canadian product, maple syrup, has yielded sweet results for the siblings. What started as a hobby farm has become the second-largest maple syrup producer in Ontario.

About 80 km northeast of downtown Toronto, the 200-acre Pefferlaw Creek Farms is set in the rolling hills of the countryside near Zephyr, Ont. Four brothers, John (BASc 2011, MEng 2014)Ben (BASc 2010, MEng 2013)Eugene (BASc 2001) and Tony (BASc 2010, MEng 2013), run and own the farm.

The crunch month of March, coinciding with the annual March Break holiday for students in Ontario publicly-funded schools, sees a staggering uptick in visitors. 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 complementing the experience for diners enjoying their breakfast.

Maple taffy on snow
Maple taffy, a reduced maple syrup, is poured on a freezing table and rolled with a wooden stick for tasting.

“We’ve been aggressively expanding,” says Ben, explaining the rapid growth of operations. In the past year the company has gone from fifth to second in provincial production, utilizing their family’s extensive combined academic backgrounds and syrup-related skills honed during their youth. 

“We grew up in the country, and my parents had about 10 acres of property. There we would make maple syrup in the backyard,” recounts 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.”  

The Tomorys are seven siblings who are all University of Toronto alumni – the six brothers from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, with their sister, Melisande, completing a degree in Geology. Civil engineering attracted three brothers — first Paul (BASc 1995, MASc 1997, MBA 2002) then twins, Ben and Tony simultaneously. The remaining brothers are Leslie (BASc 1997, MA 2005, PhD 2009), Eugene, and John.

Their father, Paul Tomory Sr. (BASc 1964), and his two brothers, Eugene (BASc 1961) and Nicholas (BASc 1965), led the way. Their mother, Teresa (BA 1970, MA 1971, PhD 1980), completed the first doctorate in the family in 1980 at U of T, making the count 11 alumni among the Tomorys.

Shelves filled with bottles of maple syrup
Rows of maple syrup samples adorn the window of the barn, appearing like stained glass, at Pefferlaw Creek Farms. 

Initially, loving the outdoors, the property was purchased for its trees. “We bought the farm as an investment about 11 years ago,” says Ben.

“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. 

“We had money because we’re all working as engineers, bachelor engineers, and we just needed time. I had a job that allowed me to take six weeks of vacation, so we just went for it. Then, 11 years later, here we are,” Ben says. 

The impressive main building, built during the beginning of the pandemic four years ago, is an impressive red-roof structure with concrete flooring, large timber framing, and massive electrical wiring and piping for liquid transport throughout.  

“We wanted to build a destination, not just a utilitarian building,” Ben says. “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.”  

Production equipment in the Pefferlaw Creek Farms barn
Ben Tomory sprays down equipment to clean it in the Pefferlaw Creek Farms barn.

“It’s been a cool project to work on. And I was basically our project manager — I have a construction background with 10 years of construction experience,” he says.

“This whole building is all building science. I really beat up the contractors getting the building designs right when it came to this thing because I didn’t want it leaking.” 

Peffferlaw, with the advantage of having several engineers at its disposal, can embrace technological change.

“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% 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.” 

The scaling up of production saw the family combine their areas of expertise throughout. Complementing their engineering credentials in electrical, chemical, mechanical and civil allows the brothers to “have some good conversations” with each other.  

With 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.

Originally published by University of Toronto Engineering News

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