The Federation would need two months to tally the losses to the stockpile. Sixty percent, or 6 million pounds of syrup, had vanished, worth about $18 million wholesale. The bold and baffling heist counts as one of the largest agricultural thefts ever, dwarfing the 860 head of cattle snatched in Queensland, Australia, last spring and the potato patches the size of a football field that were dug up in British Columbia in August. Siphoning off and transporting so much syrup was no mean feat. It would have taken more than 100 tractor-trailers. “To steal that amount of maple syrup means you have to know the market,” says Simon Trépanier, acting director of the Federation. “We are talking about big players.”
The theft was also an existential threat to the Federation, which had viewed its growing strategic reserves as the final step in stabilizing prices, locking in buyers, and ensuring loyalty from its producers. For the past decade it had struggled to overcome opposition to its reign in a series of legal battles the local media had christened “The Maple Wars.” Some observers have suggested that their attempts to control the syrup supply had, in fact, catalyzed an underground economy.
“With the benefit of hindsight, this is something you would have expected,” says Marc Van Audenrode, an economist with the Analysis Group in Montreal, who has studied the industry. Indeed, the syrup trail soon led to free-market renegades inside and outside the province who opposed what was, in their view, a Communist program. It wasn’t just about syrup, or money. It was a miniature Canadian Cold War.