Running a sweet family business : Engineering alumni siblings tap a maple syrup venture

The Tomory family, with 11 U of T alumni among them, turned a hobby into the second-largest maple syrup producer in the province. 

The Tomorys (L to R) Tony, Melisande, John, Paul Sr. (father) and Ben gather in front of their iconic red-roofed barn at Pefferlaw Creek Farms 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, Ben, Eugene and Tony, run and own the farm. In all, there are seven siblings who are all U of T alumni – six from U of T Engineering. Their parents, Paul Sr and Teresa, as well as uncles Eugene and Nicholas also count U of T as their alma mater, making the count 11 alumni among the Tomorys.

The crunch month of March, coinciding with the annual March Break holiday for students in Ontario public schools, sees a staggering uptick in the visitors. With this surge in customers, several siblings and their father, Paul Sr, gather to tackle the demands. Activities available include a tapping tour, maple taffy tasting in the sugar shack, syrup tasting and a pancake breakfast. Weekends can see live music complementing the experience for diners enjoying a pancake breakfast.

Pefferlaw Creek Farms sign from the road. (Photo by Phill Snel)

“We’ve been aggressively expanding,” says Ben Tomory (CivE 1T0, MEng 1T3), explaining the rapid expansion of operations. In the past year they have 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.”  

All seven Tomory siblings attended U of T; the six brothers at U of T Engineering, with their sister, Melisande, completing a degree in Geology in 2000. “The six boys all went through U of T Engineering. My father, and his two brothers, also went through engineering at U of T.” 

Their father, Paul Tomory Sr (ElecE 6T4), and his two brothers – uncles to the seven siblings – Eugene (ChemE 6T1) and Nicholas (ElecE 6T5) led the way. Their mother, Teresa, completed the first doctorate for the family (Fine Art St Michael’s College, 1970; MA 1971; PhD Fine Art 1980).

Civil Engineering attracted three brothers to attend – first Paul (CivE 9T5, MASc 9T7, MBA 02) then twins, Ben and Tony simultaneously (CivE 1T0, MEng 1T3). The remaining brothers are Leslie (EngSci 9T7, MA Hist 2005, PhD History of Philosophy of Science & Technology 2009), Eugene (MechE 0T1), and John (ChemE 1T1, MEng 1T4).  

Maple taffy, a reduced maple syrup, is poured on a freezing table and rolled with a wooden stick for tasting. (Photo by Phill Snel)

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

Ben Tomory sprays down equipment to clean it in the Pefferlaw Creek Farms barn. (Photo by Phill Snel)

“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. Ben recounts, “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.”   

“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.  

 By Phill Snel


Rows of maple syrup samples adorn the window of the barn, appearing like stained glass, at Pefferlaw Creek Farms. (Photo by Phill Snel)

By the numbers: 

  • 11: number of U of T alumni in Tomory family 
  • 9: number of U of T Engineering alumni
  • 700 acres of Maple forests managed by Pefferlaw Creek Farms 
  • 48,000 taps in trees 
  • 4,000,000 litres of maple sap harvested annually 
  • 85,000 litres of maple syrup bottled and sold 
  • 10,000 annual visitors  
  • 8 ft. x 20 ft. evaporator (most evaporators in Ontario are ~2’x6’ or 3’x8’)  
  • 450 km of tubing 
  • 300 hp across 100 different motors (pumps, vacuums, compressors) 

    Slicing up a pancake breakfast with plenty of local maple syrup. (Photo by Phill Snel)
A display of maple syrup products in the shop (March 2023 pricing). (Photo by Phill Snel)
Tasting maple taffy. (Photo by Phill Snel)